Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Recovering Our Religious Freedom


1.            What is meant by religious freedom?

This term relates to the personal freedom:

  • Of religious belief,
  • Of religious speech,
  • Of religious assembly with fellow believers,
  • Of religious proselytizing and recruitment, and
  • To change one's religion from one faith group to another -- or to have no religious affiliation -- or vice-versa.
The individual believer has often been the target of oppression for thinking or speaking unorthodox thoughts, for assembling with and recruiting others, and for changing their religious affiliation. Typically, the aggressors have been large religious groups and governments. Freedom from such oppression is the meaning that refers to any of the four terms: religious freedom, religious liberty, freedom of worship and freedom to worship.

2. How can Canadians and others claim protection of religious freedom?
 The "Fundamental Freedoms" section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
Canadians are therefore free to have their own beliefs and opinions, are free to practise religion or refrain, and are free to establish media organizations with or without religious content. Canadian religious institutions generally benefit from charitable organization status, which allows supporters to benefit from tax credits or deductions for their financial contributions.
According to the Charter’s preamble, Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God. This portion of the preamble has not been accorded legal effect in Charter jurisprudence. The constitutional recognition of God has been criticized as conflicting in principle with the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed in section 2, as it would disadvantage those who hold non-theistic or polytheistic beliefs, including atheism and Buddhism.
It should be noted that at this time Canadians do not enjoy a clear Separation of Church and State as is the case of its southern neighbours and other countries.

3. Why do some in Roman Catholic Church claim they do not enjoy the benefits of Religious Freedom?

According to the Religious Tolerance Org. website "a rapidly emerging new meaning of religious freedom: the freedom to discriminate and denigrate:

In recent years, religious freedom is taking on a new meaning: the freedom and liberty of a believer to apply their religious beliefs in order to hate, oppress, deny service to, denigrate, discriminate against, and/or reduce the human rights of minorities.

Now, the direction of the oppression has reversed. It is now the believer who is the oppressor -- typically fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and other religious conservatives. Others -- typically some women, as well as sexual, and other minorities -- are the targets. This new meaning is becoming increasingly common. It appears that this change is begin driven by a number of factors:
  • The increasing public acceptance of women's use of birth control/contraceptives. This is a practice regarded as a personal decision by most faith groups, but is actively opposed by the Roman Catholic and a few other conservative faith groups.
  • The increasing public acceptance of equal rights for sexual minorities including Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender persons and transsexual, Transgender persons and transsexuals -- the LGBT community (); and
  • The increasing percentage of NOTAs in North America. These are individuals who are NOT  affiliated with an organized faith group. Some identify themselves as Agnostics Atheists, secularists, Humanists, free thinkers, etc. Others say that they are spiritual, but not religious.

    The media often refer to NOTAs as "NONES" because they are affiliated to NONE of the faith groups. However, the words Nones and Nuns are homophones: words that sound alike but are spelled differently and which hold very different meanings. To avoid confusion, we recommend against this practice and recommend the unambiguous term "NOTA."
One interesting feature of this "religious freedom to discriminate" is that it generally has people treating others as they would not wish to be treated themselves. It seems to be little noticed among those who practice or advocate "religious freedom to discriminate" that this way of treating people is a direct contradiction to the Golden Rule, which Jesus required all his followers to practice. See Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, and the Gospel of Thomas, 6".

Many citizens of countries other than Canada may have their religious freedom limited due to certain agreements between Church and State.  For example, Concordant Watch reports that historically the Roman Catholic Church signed agreements called CONCORDATS with numerous countries which obliges the signatories to obey specific rules/restrictions beneficial to the Vatican but not necessarily to the advantage of that countries citizens.  According to Concordant Watch, once implemented, Concordats can never again be reintroduced without the consent of the Catholic Church. 
Canon Law represents the official collection of church laws for the Roman Catholic Church Canon (or church) law is the Christian counterpart of Hindu law, (Jewish) halakha and (Muslim) sharia. Vatican concordats often require Catholic canon law to be used in providing social services that are run by the Church, but funded by the state. Polls show that most Catholics do not agree with many of these Church rules.
Roman Catholic canon law can only be accepted inside the Vatican and inside institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. Canon law gives the rules for running one of the most successful institutions on earth. Despite its name, however, this complicated set of rules has features that no democratic legal system would tolerate. It enjoins "obedience" (Latin, obedientia) to a person, rather than to a set of legal principles, which turns the notion of the rule of law on its head. And it also makes use of the cynical concept of "scandal" (Latin, scandalum) to excuse clerics from following the rules, if doing so would cause the Church bad publicity. As a result, canon law enjoins secrecy. In practice, canon law is applied whenever the church wants to keep the state out. 
"A just laicism allows religious freedom.  The state does not impose religion but rather gives space to religions with a responsibility toward civil society, and therefore it allows these religions to be factors in building up society"  – Pope Benedict XVI  
There is little doubt that the conflict between Canon Law and Civic or State Law is responsible today for creating increased tension between the Vatican and many other Christian and democratic countries.  This tension was especially evident in the United States and Obama’s health care program. Similarly the Vatican is pressuring its bishops to advance its concerns worldwide on such controversial subjects as abortion, status of women, contraception, birth control, euthanasia, remarriage, homosexuality (LGBT), same-sex marriage, etc.

It is interesting to note that while the Vatican is eager to promote these controversial subjects on its Roman Catholic members of its institution everywhere, at the same time influencing countries to act similarly on many of these issues on all non Catholic members as well. This fact did not escape member countries of the United Nations of which the Vatican has been a full member since 2004.  It now appears that the worldwide endeavours of the Church may have back-fired to some degree.   During the fall of 2013 the Vatican was called upon to give detailed information on its record on child sexual abuse to a United Nations panel. The Geneva-based U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has asked the Vatican to “provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns.” 

 While the Vatican was among the first countries to ratify the treaty it has since claimed that the treaty to protect children could only be ratified by them when it is applied in line with Church teaching.  By insisting the Holy See should enforce compliance of Catholics all over the world it forced the Vatican to change direction. Now it says its signature only commits it to protect the children in the (virtually childfree!) Vatican city.  This reflects a statement made in May 2012 when the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) said in its child protection guidelines that under Articles 2.1 and 4.4 of this concordat its priests have no obligation to report suspected abuse to the police.  No doubt the Vatican likes to play both sides of the fence.  All the while continuing to enjoy an immunity (as a independent statehood) that places them above the law.
The influence of the Vatican in the U.N. as reported by Catholics for Choice, involving human rights treaties remain as follows:

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Has not ratified.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Signed, with reservations.Did not comply with reporting requirements. Its 2nd periodic report was due in 1997. The report was finally made available on-line as of late 2012, listing numerous reservations, including language related to family planning.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Acceded to treaty: “The Holy See, in becoming a party to the Convention on behalf of the Vatican City State, undertakes to apply it insofar as it is compatible, in practice, with the peculiar nature of that State.” Did not comply with reporting requirements.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Has not ratified.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Has not ratified.
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Has not ratified.
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Ratified, with reservations.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Ratified. But see the diplomatic cable “Vatican Opposed to Brazilian Sexual Orientation Resolution,” which says, “One does not then see how one can include 'sexual orientation' among the causes of discrimination."

Geoffrey Robertson QC, a distinguished human rights lawyer and judge, evinces a deep respect for the good works of Catholics and their church.  But he argues unless the Holy See can divest himself of the beguilements of statehood and devotion to obsolescent Canon Law, the Vatican will remain a serious enemy to the advance of human rights.

What has been said of the Roman Catholic Church and freedom of religion can also be said about any other dominant religious institution especially in those countries where religion is Law.  God's gift of life respects every human being as being equal and the freedom to choose.     

In conclusion, it should be no surprise to anyone that more and more people are demanding freedom of religion.  Freedom of religion in Canada is a constitutionally protected right, allowing believers the freedom to assemble and worship without limitation or interference. 

There were rules in the monastery, but the Master always warned against the tyranny of the law.
"Obedience keeps the rules," he would say. "Love knows when to break them."

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