Friday, 31 August 2007

Why I'm occasionally sympathetic to Bertrand Russell

I don't know if influential philosopher Bertrand Russell's reputation extends to my faithful readers (assuming that I have any). So by way of quick summary, Russell was born in 1872 in England, lived for 98 years, married four times, wrote prodigiously, and was ahead of his time in a number of areas of human thought and endeavour. Among other things, he was an avowed atheist, considering religion to be superstition related to our fear of the unknown and our need for an "elder brother" to stand by us in our troubles. His theological thoughts can be read in his famous book entitled "Why I am Not a Christian" published in 1927.

So why is a professing Christian (my good self) indicating some connection with Russell (aside from the fact that Russell is my middle name)? Why would I even contemplate the idea of rejecting the Christian faith? It's because of stories like the one that follows. It reeks of hypocrisy and the inability to live by one's professed principles. It gives credence to the old saying about the church being like Noah's ark: "If it wasn't for the storm outside, one couldn't stand the stench inside."

This story is recent and related to me by one of the key players. I will, of course, disguise some of the details to protect the innocent.

The scene: A goodish sized, conservative evangelical church in small town Canada. The church shows a commitment to the well-being of young people in a number of ways, including the provision of various clubs and sports camps.

The church's pro-life position: The church supports a local pregnancy counseling agency, including the provision of church members who serve on its board, raise money and do some of the counseling.

The church's commitment to babies: The congregation is young and many babies are born every year. The church puts on elaborate and generous baby showers on these occasions. A class on parenting is offered as well.

Sounds pretty good so far. But what happens when the unmarried daughter of two of the church's members has a baby? Well--nothing. No shower, no support, no joy, no nothing! Just big time rejection.

Was the girl some kind of disgusting sinner that she should be treated this way? She is not a Christian herself, so was not violating her own principles in having premarital sex (not that she should have been rejected on that basis in any event). She did not resort to an abortion. 75% of abortions are performed on unmarried women, but this young lady made the life choice and kept hers. She did not flaunt her situation, actually staying away from the church while pregnant (no wonder!).

One of the members, a devout evangelical with several adult children, sprang into action. She approached the teacher of the parenting class about holding a baby shower for the young woman in her home. The church leaders, some of whom were privately sympathetic, made it clear that the shower could not be held in the church but could go ahead as long as if was off-site. A number of supportive people attended, gave various gifts (including a generous amount of money), and generally made the girl feel appreciated.

But the official position of this alleged pro-life church was that the young woman would not realize the warmth and support of her parents home congregation because of having had a child out of wedlock. It makes me want to cry.

As my friend said, "The church finds it easier to support a pro-life position in general terms than to support non-Christian girls who want to keep their babies....They want to condemn these girls for premarital sex, so they cannot support their pro-life position....I guess we think that some actions are worse than others when in fact some are more obvious than others. Jesus had more cutting things to say about the Pharisees than about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)."

Well said, dear friend. It's because of people like you that some of us still hang in there with the local church. I actually embrace my faith wholeheartedly (if somewhat confusedly at times). But there are days when I feel safer in bed on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

A day with Dave & Dave

I drove home from the airport yesterday listening to the local sports station. The afternoon show was hosted by well-known sports commentator Dave Pratt and former professional football player Dave Benefield. The main topic of conversation (those of you who are sports fans will not be surprised to know) was Michael Vick.

I am sick to death of stories about Michael Vick! But here I am writing another.

For those of you who wouldn't know a hockey puck from a basketball, I'll briefly explain that Michael Vick is a very talented football quarterback who plays for Atlanta in the National Football League (NFL). He was recently charged with participating in the very cruel sport of dogfighting through financial and other kinds of support. While denying that he placed any bets on the fights, he did finally admit that he participated in the execution, by hanging, drowning and electrocution, of several underachieving dogs. For this he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL and could go to prison for anywhere from one to five years.

Dave and Dave went on at length about Michael Vick and why someone so talented and wealthy would risk it all by participating in a "sport" denounced (quite rightly) as heinous, cruel and inhumane by a U.S. attorney. They did not draw any parallels to similar but legal forms of cruelty like bullfighting. Nor did they digress into another sport that is covered routinely on their station and that has been known to cause serious injuries, permanent brain damage and even the death of human beings, that of boxing.

But interestingly enough they did find the time to question the decisions of a couple of other sports figures who have been denounced (although not arrested) for fathering too many children. These are footballer Travis Henry,who has fathered nine children with nine women (none of them his wife) in four southern states, and basketball player Shawn Kemp, an underachiever compared with Mr. Henry, having produced a mere seven children out of wedlock with six women.

I found this intriguing. Some kind of equivalence was being made between the actions of Michael Vick, who was guilty of tormenting and killing dogs, and two gentlemen who were paying out a lot of child support for their indiscriminate impregnating of groupies. I will give Dave and Dave the benefit of the doubt that they were not drawing a moral equivalence between killing dogs and having babies. I suppose that they were suggesting that all three athletes showed poor judgment in doing things that would cost them in the court of public opinion (and in Vick's case the court of law as well).

Ironically, if the two prolific biological fathers had talked their "girlfriends" into aborting all those babies, we probably would never have heard about it. Many people, in fact, would have seen abortion as a good alternative to letting the babies live. The athletes are paying support for these children instead. Yet they were being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Vick. Does anybody else find this strange?

I was gratified to read the very common sense remarks of former BC Lions football player Mark Nohra in a column written by his one-time teammate Jason Claremont in the Vancouver Sun ("Every dog will have his day in the court of public opinion," Vancouver Sun, August 2, 2007). Quoting in part:

"I am as much an animal lover as the next guy. I have even contemplated becoming vegetarian because I am starting to feel remorse for the animals that must die to make up my diet. However, people, let's please put things into perspective. The amount of attention and outrage directed towards Michael Vick is absurd when looking at the grand scheme of things....I find it hard to relate to the emotional hierarchy where people put a pet's life above a human's in many contexts. Hundreds of people die in Iraq every day....America is in the middle of a health-care crisis where fifty million of their citizens do not have health care....I wish this emotional outpour was directed towards more substantial issues...."

Well said, Mark my man. And I would like to take your logic one step further. Why do we criticize men and their girlfriends for making a life choice and providing support for their babies rather than aborting, and jailing a man for killing dogs, while giving Henry Morgentaler an honourary doctorate at a prestigious university for championing "reproductive freedom" (i.e., legalizing abortion)?

Or to put it harshly, what do Henry Morgentaler, boxing promoters and bullfighters have in common? I must phone in to Dave and Dave for an opinion.

Instant gratification vs. the prophetic task

I recently emailed about 25 or 30 pastors/priests in the local community to get feedback on a letter of invitation to churches to participate in our annual Life Chain. You may have witnessed, or even participated in, such an event in your community. Church members are invited to take a portion of a city block and, for a couple of hours, hold up signs regarding the sanctity of life. This is viewed as a kind of prophetic witness that there is a huge moral issue in our country that is becoming a non-issue through benign neglect.

Sending the request for feedback in August guaranteed that the response would be low. Unfortunately, the timing of events made it necessary that it happen then. But I did expect more than the three responses I received. However, the replies were very useful and have motivated me to write a couple of blog posts by way of a general response.

The three pastors all agreed that the problem with waning involvement in Life Chain over the years had nothing to do with our letter of invitation. In fact, they were happy to again promote the opportunity in their respective churches. They didn't even object to the signs that are typically held while promoting the cause. This surprised me as I do have personal qualms with signs that suggest that people who support the availability of abortion are by definition sinners who delight in the slaughter of the innocents.

The feedback had more to do with how people in their congregations view participation in annual events such as Life Chain and whether such activities are effective. I would now like to address this feedback in this and my next blog.

Pastor number one has strong pro life convictions and has promoted these in his church. So I take his feedback very seriously. In part, he responded as follows:

"We do get the letter re this event and the event is publicized in our bulletin as well as announced during the worship service, so the letter is not the issue. From my perspective, it has nothing to do with people having qualms about this public event either, because in the first few years attendance from our congregation and from the churches over all was very good. My sense is that people are simply tired of doing the same thing year after year and doubting its effectiveness. This particular form of protest and method of keeping this moral issue in the public eye, in other words, has just lost steam."

I want to deal with two aspects of his response: effectiveness and long-term commitment.

I know that people's commitment to some kinds of routine events (e.g., Life Chain) tends to wane because they think that they are not contributing to something that is effective. Even great prophets with a strong sense of calling such as Jeremiah and Habakkuk sometimes thought that way.

Jer. 15:16-18 When your (i.e. God's) words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?

Hab. 1:13 Your (i.e. God's) eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

They, like us, concentrated on the here and now while forgetting for the moment that we are in the morality business for the long haul.

But what is the alternative? The great Christian leader Tertullian complained in his day (3rd century A.D.) that Christians were pushed to the margins of society because they couldn't comply with the established culture (e.g., Roman emperor worship, etc.). But I don't recall that he ever counseled his people to stop acting like Christians because of the enormous price that they were paying in so doing (e.g., couldn't get jobs because of the worship of idols required at the work site). Whether a very public display of counter-culture faith was "successful" or "effective" was no more important to him than it was, I daresay, to Mother Teresa in our time.

And within a century of Tertullian's death, Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity and Tertullian's faith became the norm.

When Martin Luther wrote: "Let goods and kindred go; This mortal life also. The body they may kill; God's word abideth still...", he wasn't speaking hypothetically like we do today as we glibly sing his words. He was advocating a return to biblical theology and morality that was highly counter-cultural and was sure to meet with ridicule as a minimum and death as a maximum. Unlike Tertullian, he saw success in his lifetime but it took decades of hard and dangerous work to achieve it.

William Wilberforce spent two decades (1789-1807) raising the issue of slavery in the British Empire over and over again. It would have been easy enough to stop his decades of lobbying efforts and making the same unsuccessful motions in the British Parliament, but he persisted and finally realized his history-changing goal.

[An aside: No one will ever mistake any of our present parliamentarians for a new William Wilberforce. Wilberforceless maybe.]

What do Life Chain participants face? Two hours lost in their day? A few rude people honking at them?

As for effectiveness, I remember the Earth Days of university students in the 1970s when few people were thinking about the environment with any seriousness. Now we have Kyoto.

I remember Ralph Nader and his youthful raiders of the 1960s and 70s advocating for consumer protections that didn't exist (e.g., safely built cars) and were told that what they wanted was too expensive and not desired by the majority of the buying public. General Motors hired detectives to trail Nader in hopes that they could find something with which to discredit him. They even stooped to using prostitutes to attempt (unsuccessfully) to lure Nader into compromising situations. Now we have bills of consumer rights up the ying yang and Ministers of Consumer Affairs.

I remember in my last year at Queen's (1969-70) that some of my classmates held get-togethers that were called "smokers" with professors. In those days, smoking was still the norm. Anti-smoking crusaders were viewed as a minority of eccentrics complaining about a legal product that produced jobs for farmers and factory workers and tax revenues for the government. Now we have health warning labels on cigarette boxes and smokers are the eccentric minority.

I also remember countless highly controversial marches held by people with names like Martin Luther King.

This is not the time to flag in our efforts to seek first the Kingdom of God regarding the dignity of life. It was to the smallest of the seven churches in Revelation (see 3:7-13), the timorous Philadelphians, that God said, "Behold I set before you an open door." Note that God did not phrase his challenge in terms of short-term success--or any success at all. He simply provided them with an opportunity. Two thousand years later that door is still open. And to a large degree, the church is still timorous.

And if Life Chain is not the way to do it, please suggest an alternative. Don't let the momentum die.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

And away we go!

After his opening monologue, the late great comedian Jackie Gleason used to ask his orchestra conductor for what he called "a little traveling music." Jackie would then do his famous shuffle to the curtains, and before disappearing behind them to start the rest of the show, would announce, "And away we go."

Aging boomers like myself have used the expression ever since as a way of suggesting that something provocative has happened, and now the proverbial is about to hit the fan. I think that this has happened with the articles on the traveling abortion billboard that appeared in the National Post and the Calgary Herald on Saturday, Aug. 11/07.

One of the letters to the editor in today's Post pretty much illustrates what I was saying on this blog yesterday regarding personhood; i.e., All kinds of things can be done to non-persons that can't be done to persons.

To ensure that nothing is quoted out of context, I'll reproduce the letter in its entirety:

The message of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform's Stephanie Gray is not of social justice but of agree with me or be bullied. It is a message of lies, half truths, provocation, disrespect for women and children. She portrays abortion as a single moral issue, not the complex social issue of raising standards of housing, nutrition, health, education and therefore indulging in a richer Canadian society.

The message is signed by one H. Hamilton of Markham, ON.

Now I don't think that Ms Gray's bullying (if that is what it is) is any worse than, say, that of Globe & Mail columnist William Johnson, who in November 2000 made the following astonishing and groundless comments about Stockwell Day, then leader of the (now defunct) Canadian Alliance.

"Everyone knows that, the day after Mr. Day is elected prime minister, there'll be a petition book opened at the back of every Roman Catholic church, every evangelical prayer hall in the land ... [with priests] scourging them into righteous outrage against the slaughter of the innocent in the womb. Abortion will be the first order of business, even before the new government has passed the bill introducing citizen-inspired referendums."

Nor is it any more provocative than former NDP national leader Alexa McDonough remarking that it was:

"absolutely outrageous that [Day] thinks he can subject my right to choose, my right to make reproductive choices, my right to control the decisions affecting my body to a referendum."

People make strong statements all the time, some more tactfully than others, some more truthfully than others. One can label it as bullying, I suppose, especially if one disagrees, but what is more important is whether something is right or worthy of discussion, not whether it's polite.

As for the heart of Mr. or Ms Hamilton's letter, s/he dismisses the fundamental issue of whether an unborn baby should be aborted as secondary to other issues such as whether enough money is spent on certain (admittedly very worthy) causes such as housing and health. The last part of the letter is particularly arresting. The writer suggests pretty clearly that whether someone should abort or not is a function of whether the expectant women might be hindered in indulging in a richer Canadian society.

With the greatest respect to author Hamilton, s/he is veering rather too closely to the arguments used by the pro-slavery camp in the U.S. during the nineteenth century (see, for instance, the famous Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates). Slaves were by definition (compliments of the U.S. Supreme Court) two-thirds of a person for the purposes of the constitution and could not be given citizenship (even if freed). They were of an inferior race, and legally the chattel of the slave owner, to be viewed as any other kind of property. Therefore, rescuing a slave, as the Underground Railroad did, was a property offense. Slaves were a very necessary part of the success of the Southern economy, a standard of living (enjoyed only by the whites) that was threatened by the abolition of slavery.

Proponents of slavery during Abraham Lincoln's time wanted the issue kept out of national politics for fear that it would rip the U.S. apart. Clergy who, in their thousands, maintained that slavery was contrary to God's will were labeled as undemocratic and (interestingly) sacrilegious.

Do I need to point out the obvious parallels in the arguments used for slavery and abortion:
  • This is a property issue (keep your hands/laws off my slave--keep your hands/laws off my body).
  • The law is settled on the matter (Canadian Supreme Court--U.S. Supreme Court).
  • Religious views are not appropriate.
  • Economic well-being is a decisive factor.
  • The issue is too divisive and politically dangerous.
  • Having slaves or not, or having an abortion or not, is a free choice.
Letter writer Hamilton has resorted to the usual distractions. But the fundamental issue, just as it was with slavery, is personhood. Slavery was wrong even when it was legal. The position that I take is that abortion is also wrong for the same reason. Slaves and unborn babies are full-fledged persons.

P.S. While I have my own misgivings about the pictures on the abortion truck, I still have to ask H. Hamilton this question: If some abolitionist of Lincoln's day had put images on billboards of slaves being hanged for trivial offenses, or having their feet bludgeoned to discourage any further attempts at running away; or pictures of Simon Legree-types whipping the slaves until their motivation improved, or of the anguish on a slave mother's face as her children were sold to other slave owners, would you describe such pictures as "provocation and disrespect"? Just wondering.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Lungs are one thing.....but an abortion truck?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (well, actually it was in Welland, Ontario) I was a marketing research analyst in the specialty steel industry. Our VP of Sales & Marketing, Al Orr (a really fine guy with an uncanny resemblance to then Premier Bill Davis) had the department over to his house for a Christmas party. Adorning the rec room wall was the famous poster displaying a nice pink healthy lung alongside a horrific looking specimen that had been ruined through smoking.

I'm not sure whether the source of this poster was a lung association or the cancer people, but its aim was to motivate smokers to butt out. Al, who was a smoker, explained that his wife had put it up to encourage him to quit. I have never smoked, but the poster did give me the creeps. I wondered if Mrs. Orr was also trying to put us off our food in hopes of saving on the snacks budget. I think that all she did was guarantee a more liberal slurping from the alcoholic punch bowl.

I thought of this incident when I opened last Saturday's National Post to p. A6, only to be greeted with the photo of a cube van covered with pictures of aborted fetuses. A group that rejoices in the name of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) has taken to driving this van along Calgary's busiest streets with the aim of bringing home to drivers the implications of choosing to abort pre-born babies. It is not a pretty sight.

The executive director of the Calgary-based organization explains their modus operandi this way: "It's only when people saw pictures of African Americans being brutally treated and beat up, only when they saw pictures of children working in mines in Pennsylvania, did they say 'wow, this is bad,' and eventually over time, begin to shift their views" (National Post, August 11, 2007, p. A6).

Not surprisingly, this venture has engendered the wrath of the National Abortion Federation, which accused the CCBR of using 'misleading images'. I'm not so sure about that. Given that the most common abortion procedure is to suck the fetuses out of the womb (gently, they assure us) using a suction tube that tears apart both the body and placenta and deposits them in a jar, I think that any pictures of abortions would look pretty bad.

But even some pro-life advocates have condemned the tactic, including Calgary's Catholic Bishop Fred Henry who says that this strategy "does more harm than good to the pro-life cause." The archbishop here in Vancouver shares this view.

Using arresting, even horrifying, pictures to either stop some practice or to motivate people to donate has been stock in trade for many organizations for years. Aside from the lungs poster, I'm thinking of images I have seen of people with leprosy, the distended bellies of starving children, tsunami victims, the results of drunk driving sponsored by groups such as MADD and CounterAttack, the unforgettable picture of those Vietnamese children running in terror---one could go on.

Seldom is the use of such images condemned. But pictures of the results of abortion appear to draw significant opprobrium from groups at various places on the pro-life, pro-choice, pro-abortion spectrum. I suppose the question is, should anyone condone their use? How are they different from lungs?

If I can say anything in their favour, the images certainly obliterate the common myth that a young fetus is just a collection of cells. As anyone knows who has viewed more agreeable pictures of life in the womb, pre-born babies look pretty much human almost from the get go. Even at two months the fetus is forming teeth; fingers and toes are developing; ears, nose, lips and tongue can be seen; brain waves can be recorded--the fetus may even suck its thumb.

But if abortion is wrong, it is not because it is ugly. Open-heart surgery has little to commend itself as art either. The issue of the rightness or wrongness of aborting pre-born babies turns on the question of personhood. Is a fetus a genuine person that should be accorded the rights and privileges of personhood? If yes, then aborting it is homicide. If no, then it's not.

At this point, Canada has withheld the conferring of personhood on unborn babies. There was a time when it did the same to women and what would have then been called Indians. The U.S. Supreme Court was able to avoid applying the guarantees and protections of the constitution (including liberty) to African American slaves by defining them as two-thirds of a person. All kinds of things can be done to non-persons that can't be done to persons.

With respect I say to the CCBR, don't distract from the real issue--personhood.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Separation of Mind and State

[Abortion is] a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women. There is no reason why government cannot do more to educate and inform and provide assistance so that the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.

Take a minute and try to guess the identity of the speaker quoted above. I'll give you a clue--it is a federal politician. Steven Harper? Well to be more explicit, an American federal politician. George W. Bush? Nope. Vice-President Cheney? Wrong again. Condoleeza Rice? Way off.

OK, let's try one of the next generation of would-be GOP leaders. Senator McCain? I'm sure he believes what is quoted, but he's not the source, nor is Governor (and evangelical pastor) Mike Huckabee. (Mormon) Governor Mitt Romney? Not at all. Mayor (and professed Roman Catholic) Rudy Giuliani? Can't be. He's pro choice, at least politically.

Give up? It's Hilary Rodham Clinton, whose remarks to a Democratic group in 2005 shocked their little socks off. The British newspaper Telegraph noted that Ms Clinton went even further:

She also praised religious groups which have run chastity campaigns for young people, encouraging millions of teenagers to pledge sexual abstinence before marriage. Last week in Boston, Mrs Clinton spoke of God more than a dozen times and stated that she had always been a "praying person".

Backing President George W Bush's faith-based initiatives, which offer federal money for religious groups' charitable works, she said: "There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles." (qtd. from "Gasps as Hillary woos the anti-abortion vote," Francis Harris in Washington, Last Updated: 26/01/2005)

To give Ms Clinton her due, she has not backed off on the importance of letting religious morality shape one's worldview now that she's in the Democratic leadership race. As quoted in Time (July 23, 2007, p. 17) she made this statement:

Maybe we're getting back to where people can be who they are....If faith is an element of who you legitimately, authentically are, great. But don't make it up, don't use it, don't beat people over the head with it.

Her main opponent (at this writing), Barack Obama, who attends a church in the religiously liberal United Church of Christ denomination, agrees with the legitimacy of holding and proclaiming religiously-shaped views:

If we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice (Time, July23, 2007, p. 18).

It's important to keep in mind that the American constitution includes a formal separation of church and state. This is often interpreted to mean that religiously-informed views have no place in public discourse in a pluralistic society, but it has more to do with no particular religion or denomination being favoured over another. Therefore, while Christian (or any other) prayers in public schools are disallowed, given that they would indicate a preference for a certain religion and force students to participate in a religious rite, the distribution of Gideon bibles, or the formation of religion-based clubs on campus, is quite legal. Ms Clinton is suggesting nothing illegal in lending her support to federal funding of religious groups doing charitable work.

Here in Canada, glorious and free, no such constitutional separation of church and state exists. Nevertheless, Canadian governments and courts often tend to act as if a ban (some might say a very high and impenetrable wall) in fact pertains and rules out any government support of certain kinds of activities with religious connotations. [The same is true of many foundations in choosing whom they will fund.]

Take for instance the famous, and very important, case of Chamberlain vs. School District 36 (Surrey, BC). A Surrey school district teacher named James Chamberlain was using certain books that presented families where both parents were of the same sex (female or male) with his primary school children. When certain parents objected and asked that their children be put in another class, the school board eventually banned the use of the books (although they left them on the library shelves). Since the parents had religious objections, and because some of the trustees shared these views, the public perception was that the decision was religiously motivated and intolerant.

BC Supreme Court justice Mary Saunders overturned the board's decision. She put considerable weight on two provisions of the BC School Act in coming to her decision:
  1. All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and nonsectarian principles.
  2. The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school.
Madame Justice Saunders' understanding of what the terms nonsectarian and secular mean can be deduced from comments included in her reasons:
  1. When the school board passed the books resolution, some of the trustees who voted in favour of the resolution were motivated to a significant degree by concern that parents and others in the School District would consider the books incompatible with their religious views on the subject of same-sex considerations.
  2. The public school is a place independent of religious considerations.
  3. Today, s.76 of the School Act.... follows the longstanding habit of public school statutes in British Columbia, consistent with the broad diversity of the peoples of British Columbia, of emphasizing a non-religious school system.
Therefore Madame Justice Saunders dismissed as irrelevant the views expressed by the Steering Committee of the Surrey Evangelical Churches, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, a Muslim who is on the Surrey/Delta Management Committee of the BC Muslim Association, a leader of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Society, and a leader of the Verdic Hindu Society. She decided that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the only basis for inculcating the highest possible morality among school children.

The case went to the BC Court of Appeal where the appeal court judges took what I would consider to be a more American approach. The following summary of their decisions is found on the Centre for Cultural Renewal website:

The unanimous Court rejected the claimant's interpretation of what it means for the School Act to require that all "schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles." "Secular", considered in light of the history of the School Act, is a pluralist principle; its purpose is to exclude the inculcation of any particular sectarian religious doctrine in schools, so as not to promote or discourage any particular form of religious belief.

The Court distinguished between religious doctrine and the moral convictions that may flow from reflection on that doctrine. Reflection on religious experience is only one possible source of moral beliefs. Many people do not accept the authenticity of any religious experience, and their moral positions are derived from other sources. The law, however, is not concerned with the sources of morality; "a religiously informed conscience should not be accorded any privilege, but neither should it be placed under a disability."

And again, "moral positions must be accorded equal access to the public square without regard to religious influence." The Court thus unanimously rejected the Chambers judge's holding that moral decisions influenced by religion are excluded by the School Act. To accede to this position would make "religious unbelief a condition of participation in the setting of the moral agenda" and "would negate the right of all citizens to participate democratically in the education of their children in a truly free society" (

The Supreme Court of Canada, however, overturned the decision of the BC Court of Appeal, although it did not quite so far as Madame Justice Saunders. It agreed that the School Act's reference to secularism did not mean that religious considerations could never play a part in a school board's deliberations, but took the position that the board must promote respect and tolerance for all the diverse groups it represents.

Why am I bringing up a public education case in a column devoted to life issues such as abortion and euthanasia? Well it's just my opinion, but I sense that the type of reasoning evident in Justice Saunders' position has spilled over into government-supported activities in other arenas, including the provision and withdrawal of charitable status.

Ms Clinton's views on the provision of federal funding for faith-based charitable activities are consistent with U.S. Supreme Court decisions; e.g., Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, U.S. (1995), per Scalia, J.
  1. When the government appropriates public funds to promote a particular policy of its own it is entitled to say what it wishes.
  2. When the government disburses public funds to private entities to convey a governmental message, it may take legitimate and appropriate steps to ensure that its message is neither garbled nor distorted by the grantee.
  3. The government is not required to subsidize the exercise of fundamental rights such as the freedom of speech.
  4. However, if the government chooses to expend funds to "encourage a diversity of views from private speakers", instead of speaking itself or subsidizing transmittal of a message it favors, "viewpoint-based" restrictions are not permitted.
There appear to be times, however, when Canadian government bodies take a much narrower view. I am thinking here the decision of Canada Customs and Revenue to annul the charitable registration of the Hazelton Pro Life Society in September 2000. What follows is a sample of the reasoning used as the feds came to their decision. Compare what follows with what I recorded above concerning the prevailing legal view in the U.S.

An annulment of an organization's status as a registered charity is a procedure that we may use when it appears than an organization has been registered in error. We consider that the Charity's case falls under this situation because the Charity's objects evidence its bias toward a pro-life side of the debate on abortion.

The courts have held that advancement of education in the charitable sense means the training of the mind, advancing the knowledge or abilities of the recipient, improving a useful branch of human knowledge through research, and raising the artistic taste of the community. The advancement of education category does not, however, extend to the dissemination of information when such information is designed to persuade the public to adopt a certain attitude of mind concerning a controversial socio-political issue, such as abortion or euthanasia.

The courts have established that activities that are designed essentially to sway public opinion on a controversial social issue are not charitable, but are political is the sense understood at law.

Revenue Canada takes the position that the only legitimate kind of education is one free of any preferences--a sort of "worldpoint-neutral" approach, if such a thing could actually exist. It seems to me that were it to be applied evenly across educational sectors, then not only would pro-life organizations be in big trouble, but so would any government-funded independent schools, whether elementary, secondary, or post-secondary.

The Government of Alberta, for instance, would have to take away the full funding given to the large Roman Catholic school boards in that province that put up billboards urging the public to place students in their classrooms where Christ is alive and well. The same would be true for the large number of partially funded Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran and Christian Reformed university colleges that promote their faith-based approach to education. Here in BC the provincial government would have the same problem with Jewish, Sikh and other faith-based schools they now partially fund. All of these schools have charitable status as well, of course.

The folks over at Planned Parenthood Canada aren't taking any chances. While no one would would likely call that organization worldview-neutral or unbiased, they attempt to hit the right note with Revenue Canada lest they suffer the same fate as the Hazelton Pro-Life group. They decry, for instance, fraudulent counseling centres that, among other things, make moral or religious judgments. They accept funding only from non-religious/moral sources. They have no respect for biased or inaccurate facts such as abstinence-based education. They criticize those who are anti-abortion.

I guess that they would have no use for Hillary Clinton either. After all, she is anxious to promote her views on abortion and sexual abstinence and have the government support them financially. No educator she.

I think that you sense my leanings here. I will explore them further in my next post.