Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy


Can there be any consensus in a pluralist society respecting the common good? Can notions such as 'the dignity of the human person' or 'equality of persons' or 'human rights' be articulated in such a way as to guide effectively our legislators, judges, and those charged with overseeing public welfare? What role should religion play in determining the content of these notions – or in shaping policies on economics, education, health care, scientific research, foreign affairs, or the global community? It is often said that ours is a 'secular' society, but what exactly does that imply? The Pluralism, Religion & Public Policy project is designed to bring together people from academia, law, politics and religious institutions to debate some of the fundamental issues that must be faced in addressing such questions.


Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy? The Supreme Court of Canada determined, in the Trinity Western University decision(s) handed down on 15 June 2018, what these terms mean and what the relation between them is. Not in so many words, but plainly enough. 

Pluralism means LGBTQ and more LGBTQ, even if that means less religion – in this case, no religiously based private law schools that expect staff and students to adhere to strict standards of sexuality morality – and hence less diversity of actual functioning communities able to maintain their own ethos, ethics, and anthropology and to engage the rest of us on that basis.

Religion means something essentially private, lacking any real corporate weight and corresponding rights such as can be ascribed, oddly enough, to very loose and often warring amalgams, with equally fierce views of sex, such as the LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA (does ‘A’ stand for ad infinitum?) movement.

Public Policy means, as the dissenting justices pointed out, that sections 1 and 2a of the Charter have become virtually meaningless in such matters, because bureaucrats in their various spheres are free to decide what is in the public interest, and what they decide is in the public interest already determines in broad outline what is justifiable in a free and democratic society by way of restraints on freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of assembly and association, etc. 

So, for example, if the benchers of the LSBC decide, however they decide, that adding 60 places for law students is not in the public interest if those places are situated within a community with whose sexual standards they do not agree, well, they may pursue their policy with 2a impunity. (One supposes this also to be true for the Government, then, which will be able to pursue discriminatory programs like its Summer Job Grants with the same kind of impunity.)

Justices Côté and Brown, writing in dissent, criticized the majority for (a) letting away the LSBC in taking a decision that impinged TWU's freedom of religion and association without supplying reasons, (b) offering in their absence to supply the court’s own reasons, and (c) actually having no reasons.  The net effect of their quite devastating dissent is to show that the court itself, and Charter jurisprudence with it, is now in crisis mode. The Emperor, they seem to be saying, has no clothes.

A Europe in which one can believe? 

St George he was for England, 
And right gallantly set free 
The lady left for dragon's meat 
And tied up to a tree; 
But since he stood for England 
And knew what England means, 
Unless you give him bacon 
You mustn't give him beans.

– from “The Englishman,” by G. K. Chesterton

The Paris Statement: A Europe We Can Believe In was issued on 7 October 2017 by signatories from ten nations, including Rémi Brague, Roger Scruton, Robert Spaemann and...  PDF icon Review of the Paris Statement. See Communio 45.1. Prof. Spaemann (d. 10 Dec. 2018), requiescat in pace.

Or a Europe in which one can't say what one thinks, if what one thinks (even if merely a statement of fact) puts religious peace at risk? 

The Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that insulting Islamic prophet Muhammad “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.”

The "insult" in question was pointing out that the Muslim tradition that Muhammad consummated his "marriage" to a six year old when she was nine is a claim about what in the West we call pedophilia. 

The court says that there's a right to have one's religious feelings protected.  Well, well. Perhaps none of them have religious feelings? Or have those with religious feelings never been out of the house?

Britain: a place where one must believe in pluralism 

 – even if pluralism means turning a blind eye to systematic child rape?

China: a country in which one can believe only what and where and when one is told to believe 

Attempts to suppress diversity of opinion are not unknown in Canada. Witness the controversy over the student summer jobs program.  They are better known in China, however, where it is established public policy to control everything from public opinion to human reproduction, to efface and deface religious expression, even to ban children from attending religious services, arrest clergy and other dissenters.   

Despite, or some argue because of, the recent Holy See-China agreement, Chinese authorities have reportedly been brainwashing four priests into joining the state-run church, and for the fifth time in two years, Bishop Shao Zhuyin of Wenzhou has been arrested. – NCR


Here is a most remarkable claim, laid by the state, to be able even to dictate the terms of divine love:

It has become the primary focus of President Xi’s plans to eradicate “differences” between Chinese communities across the entire country. He insists that “Chinese characteristics” must be incorporated into all activities, beliefs and traditions; chief among them being unwavering loyalty to the Communist party. In April, China’s religious affairs department published an article saying that churches must endorse the party’s leadership as part of “Sinicization.” The article stated: “Only Sinicized churches can obtain God’s love.”

Religion is dangerous. Everything is dangerous if it doesn't toe the Party line. And the Party is watching, watching in every way and in every place it can. Just be sure you aren't.

China is the biggest of Big Brothers. Plans for a comprehensive evaluation of citizens in Beijing, a trial run for the entire country, are underway. What would your Social Capital rating be? And why are you/we/McGill/even the Vatican still doing business with China?

China arrests more Christian leaders... and more Christian people. Read Wang Yi's "Letter from a Chengdu Jail".

Transformation through Education - in the Gulags

Canada: a country in which one must believe one thing privately and another publicly?

(Excerpt from Desiring a Better Country, 51f.)

Justin Trudeau, for one, recently declared that the truth taught him by the Catholic Church via his father is one thing and the truth to which he and his caucus colleagues must adhere is another. Here is Trudeau fils, as reported in various interviews, brandishing the Liberal Party flag at the barricade between public and private truth in defence of abortion: “I had an extraordinary example in a father who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very religious, very Catholic … He held his personal views very, very strongly. But he understood that as leaders, as political figures, as representatives of a larger community, our utmost responsibility is to stand up for people’s rights.” “The policy going forward is that every single Liberal mp will be expected to stand up for women’s rights to choose.” “That doesn’t impact or prevent someone from holding personal views – religious views – but it does mean that with our votes the Liberal party protects women’s rights.”

And here is Trudeau père, commenting on the same issue some forty years earlier: “You know, at some point you are killing life in the foetus in self-defence – of what? Of the mother’s health or her happiness or of her social rights or her privilege as a human being? I think she should have to answer for it and explain. Now, whether it should be to three doctors or one doctor or to a priest or a bishop or to her mother-in-law is a question you might want to argue … You do have a right over your own body – it is your body. But the foetus is not your body; it’s someone else’s body. And if you kill it, you’ll have to explain.”

It will not do, of course, to mistake Pierre Trudeau’s view for that of the Church. One does not explain that which is intrinsically evil; rather, one repents of it. And where the evil in question is killing the innocent, civil law, like natural and divine law, must forbid it. But what are we to make of Justin’s notion that something can be fundamentally wrong according to sound religion and fundamentally right according to sound politics? We can draw but one of two conclusions. Either truth is indeed a house divided against itself, or else the realm of religion – of “deeply held personal views” – is not really the realm of truth or rationality at all.

The result again is repression. A more sensible man, Rex Murphy, put his finger on the problem that immediately arises for those who neither subscribe to a two-truths theory nor accept the bracketing of religion with the irrational: they are excluded from public life.

What kind of politics are they which require an MP to renounce his deepest moral commitments; indeed, to go beyond renunciation and declare himself positively in favour of ideas and actions that his faith condemns, his Church forbids, and his conscience cannot abide? Religion, under these conditions, cannot survive political engagement. An understanding of politics based on an exclusion of thoughtful and engaged religious people – on the rejection of ideas and understandings offered by the great religious teachers and the massive legacy of thought our churches have to offer – is radically incomplete. As things now are, a truly religious person must actually stay out of politics – must forgo an active role in democratic government – because in our brazen and new age, he or she will be faced with irreconcilable moral choices. If elected, he or she will be required to betray their faith and themselves, and on those very issues that matter most: issues of life, family, autonomy and the dignity of persons.

That is the effect of the doctrine of double truth as we encounter it today.

Double Truth, Double Talk

Is a good secular state one that enforces what Richard John Neuhaus famously called the naked public square? Is it a state, to change the metaphor, that imposes The Yoke of Neutrality?  Whence arises the so-called 'duty of neutrality' anyway? The American constitution, as Justice Scalia and others have observed, does not impose any such duty, but only a non-establishment/free-exercise clause.

In the opening paragraph of Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (2015 SCC 16), on the other hand, we read: 'The state is required to act in a manner that is respectful of every person’s freedom of conscience and religion. This is a fundamental right... Its corollary is that the state must remain neutral in matters involving this freedom.' But it is not at all evident that the latter claim is a corollary of the former; it appears rather to be appended to the former quite arbitrarily. The duty of neutrality thus posited is later secured, at par. 147, by another exercise in unexamined assertion: 'The reference to the supremacy of God in the preamble to the Canadian Charter cannot lead to an interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion that authorizes the state to consciously profess a theistic faith.' Again, no supportive argument is offered.

The following paragraph of Saguenay quotes Lorne Sossin (“The ‘Supremacy of God’, Human Dignity and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” [2003], 52 U.N.B.L.J. 227, p. 229): 'The reference to the supremacy of God in the Charter should not be construed so as to suggest one religion is favoured over another in Canada, nor that monotheism is more desirable than polytheism, nor that the God‑fearing are entitled to greater rights and privileges than atheists or agnostics'  (emphasis added by the court). But Sossin's counterintuitive reading is not cited in conjunction with contrary views; nor is it defended. It is simply adopted by the court as congenial, and made the law of the land.

How neutral, we may ask, is 'neutral'? Take, for example, the state's involvement in abortion – not only in providing abortions (over the last century, world-wide, a staggering one billion of them, by some estimates) but in attacking those who defend the lives that are being ended by abortion. In Canada two religious ladies who have peacefully championed natural justice for the unborn, Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner, have paid for it repeatedly with jail sentences. Meanwhile, in the UK it has emerged that some hospitals have been burning fetal remains, along with other organic "waste," to help heat their buildings. In America other ways have been found, notably by the grotesquely misnamed Planned Parenthood, to profit by murder. A "more tolerant, more inclusive" Ireland has now jumped on the bandwagon by voting heavily in favour of repealing the constitutional amendment banning the killing of unwanted babies. Canada, for its part, has no abortion law at all (see the commentary by ret. Justice Mitchell, and this piece from Kevin Arsenault in PEI), just lots of laws limiting free speech and free assembly where these touch on the topic. Its Parliament likes to ignore that, where it does not actually applaud it, but Ted Falk speaks the simple truth. What truths will come to light in the USA, during the struggle over the Kavanaugh confirmation?

Again, how neutral is a state that tries to establish a right to die without suffering, which can only be established on the premise that we are the outright owners of our lives; otherwise put, on the premise that there is no Creator or Redeemer, no God to whom we are accountable for our lives?  This premise contradicts all three Abrahamic faiths. It's time, surely, for religion to makes its voice heard again in the public sphere. (See further the Euthanasia page.)