A recent editorial in a Canadian Catholic weekly suggested that Canadian Catholics may be at risk of losing their religious freedom. This is not only totally false but completely contradicts the modern safeguards that are in place to guarantee all Canadians the safety to practise their faith without any interference from the state or other religious groups. When we allow our conscience to be formed by God nothing can violate that or stand against it. That same God will help us to overcome any situations which could cause us any personal conflict. Institutional rules and regulations should always follow the need to serve the greater good.
In the Western world, including Canada and the USA, the ‘Separation of State and Church or Religion’ specifically provides for such freedom. While such separation prevents the State from supporting any religion or from interfering with it also obliges religion to leave the public sphere open to all. When both sides respect the boundaries, secularism provides a framework for freedom of conscience, tolerance and democracy. Secularism does not guarantee human rights but it helps make them possible.
This is obviously a thorn in the side of the American bishops who want direct control and influence over national policies and politics (as they once did for centuries). Is it because they want to introduce legislation that would criminalize abortion and homosexuality, among other matters? The fact that the Vatican is the only western nation that has refused to sign the 2006 UN declaration that de-criminalizes homosexual behaviour should sound alarm bells about the overall aims of these bishops. Are they opposing the implementation a national health program to divert Catholics from their real objectives. Surely these bishops recognize that such a health program is intended to serve the poorest of the poor? What then has happened to the Catholic understanding about ‘the fundamental option of the poor’ when an estimated 40 million American cannot afford basic health care?
According to official polls the vast majority of Canadian Catholics are opposed to abortion in general. But they also understand that there are exceptions under which abortion can be allowed and approved. Who would write these guidelines, when the majority of US bishops seem to demand that there cannot be any exceptions? What has happened to compassion and understanding when these issues are presented in absolute terms? Nowhere in the bible will anyone find Jesus accusing sinners of being ‘intrinsically evil/disordered, or in a state of grave depravity’. Removing these terms from the current catechism would go a long way to take away the very fuel homophobic bigots use to justify bullying in school yards. Recognizing that homosexuality in some countries is punishable by torture and death why does the Church still single out homosexuals over all other sins? Why has the Vatican not signed the UN declaration to decriminalize homosexuality? At the very least should the Catholic Church not call for an end to these brutal actions in countries which continue to view homosexuality as a crime?
The question of religious liberty or conscience is being obfuscated when it is suggested that a relationship between God and a person can somehow be restricted. God gave us free choice should religious institutions not follow suit?
UPDATE: reported by The Tablet (UK) August 30/2012
Tunisia introduces blasphemy bill
30 August 2012
Christian and human rights groups have expressed concern about the ruling Islamist party in Tunisia introducing a Blasphemy Bill. It will make "insults, profanity, derision, and representation of Allah and Muhammad" punishable by up to two years in prison or a significant fine, with repeat offenders facing four years behind bars.
John Pontifex, from Aid to the Church in Need, a charity that helps persecuted Christians, warned that under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, extremists "take matters into their own hands and mete out ‘justice', committing heinous crimes against people whom they decide are guilty, totally ignoring due legal process".
The Barnabas Fund, which also assists Christians facing discrimination, noted that the introduction of the bill "indicates the increasing strength of Islam in public life in Tunisia, which before the Arab Spring was one of the most secular countries in the region."
Is this the kind of religious 'freedom', our bishops are hoping to implement?