Monday, March 01, 2010

Mounting attacks on freedom of religion

Catholic Insight
By Rory Leishman

Faithful Catholics should brace themselves and their children for tougher times ahead as atheistic politicians become ever bolder in their attacks on freedom of conscience and religion.

In England, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour government recently introduced a sweeping, new Equality Bill that subjects churches to a wide-ranging ban on discrimination in employment. Speaking on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff denounced the proposed law on the ground that it could be construed by the courts as requiring the Church to hire women, practising homosexuals and transsexuals as both priests and lay employees.

John Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York, likewise objected to the legislation. During debate in the House of Lords, he observed: "Noble Lords may believe that Roman Catholics should allow priests to be married; they may think that the Church of England should hurry up and allow women to become bishops; they may feel that many churches and other religious organisations are wrong on matters of sexual ethics. But if religious freedom means anything, it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine in accordance with their own convictions."

On January 25th, the House of Lords amended the Equality Bill to exempt churches from the ban on discrimination in employment. Then, on February 1, Pope Benedict XVI weighed in on the controversy, urging the English and Welsh bishops to maintain their opposition to legislation that imposes "unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs."

That was enough for Brown. On February 2, his office disclosed that the government would not attempt to ram the original Equality Bill through the Commons over the objection of the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, freedom of religion is likewise under systematic attack in Canada. In 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal held that Christian Horizons, an evangelical Christian organization that cares for handicapped persons, had no right to fire an employee for entering into a lesbian relationship in violation of her promise to uphold the agency’s morality code.

Now, Catholic schools are under pressure. In a memorandum on June 24, former Ontario education minister Katherine Wynne, a lesbian, advised all publicly funded school boards in the province, Catholic and secular, that each "board’s workforce should reflect the diversity within the community." She made no reference to the historic right of Catholic Boards to favour committed and practising Catholics in hiring teachers -- a policy that is currently the subject of a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal by a non-Catholic teacher who was refused employment by the Wellington Catholic District School Board.

Wynne also summoned all Ontario schools to "discuss and address" homophobia, and to assure that "everyone in our publicly funded education system – regardless of background or personal circumstances – must be welcomed and accepted."

Faithful Catholics do not need any admonition from Wynne to oppose unfair discrimination against homosexuals. In a statement issued in 2004, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops deplored the higher rates of suicide among homosexual students and underlined “the right of each student to be free of harassment, violence or malice in speech or action."

Of course, the Catholic schools are also supposed to affirm that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." Does imparting this teaching of the Church conform with Wynne's decree that all students, including sexually active homosexuals, "must be welcomed and accepted" in all publicly funded schools?

That, to say the least, is open to doubt. Wynne made no reference in her memorandum to the provisions in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Constitution of Canada that are supposed to guarantee the right of Catholic schools to govern themselves in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In a cabinet shuffle on January 25, Ontario's nominally Catholic Premier Dalton McGuinty removed Wynne from the education ministry and replaced her with Leona Dombrowsky, a Catholic with seven years of experience as chair of a Catholic school board. Let us hope and pray that Dombrowsky proves to be more supportive of the aims of Catholic education than her secular predecessor.

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