Religious freedom is not under attack in Canada.
Just because some religious folks are now being challenged about their beliefs, or about the special treatment that religion gets in our society, does not mean that religion is under attack. Despite that, yesterday in Ottawa you would have thought that religion had been under intense attack by “atheist fundamentalists” for years now. I’m not even sure what an atheist fundamentalist is.
In recent weeks, James Lunney, the MP for Nanaimo-Alberni left the Conservative caucus in the House of Commons to sit as an independent because he had been feeling muzzled about his religious beliefs. He then subsequently tweeted his thoughts on evolution. He doesn’t believe in it. When people started responding to him on twitter he got angrier, and among his tweets said
which got more people calling him out.
Unfortunately the good Doctor (of Chiropractic) does not understand what a scientific theory is. Evolution is a fact. There is enough evidence to support that evolution has happened and is happening. Contrary to his belief, we have observed evolution in the laboratory and in nature. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection refers to how evolution takes place. We believe, and we have mountains of evidence to support it, that evolution happens through the process of natural selection, where the most beneficial traits in a particular natural situation that allow an organism to adapt to that environment favour that organism surviving over others in the same ecosystem. The theory explains much of the evolutionary fossil record that we have observed, and nothing in that record contradicts it.
What Mr. Lunney does not understand is that at no time during this debate has his religious freedom been under attack. Religious freedom does not mean that you get to say any ridiculous thing that you want and that nobody can challenge you on it. Mr. Lunney can think anything he wants, but that does not mean that other people cannot tell him that they think that he is wrong. That is all that has happened here. At no time was Mr. Lunney prevented from practising his religion. He has made up a controversy.
So, yesterday Mr. Lunney stood up in the House and asked to speak on a point of privilege. The Speaker questioned whether it really was a point of privilege, but eventually he was allowed to say his piece. Of course, CBC’s Power and Politics got a hold of the story and convened the following “debate” a short time later.
The debate was between Ian Capstick and Charles McVety. Mr. Capstick gets very passionate about his views in this exchange, and there is a point that he probably goes over the top, but for the most part he sticks to one simple fact; why do religious organizations get charitable tax breaks from the Government to support their religion?
It’s a good question… and it is never answered. Mr. McVety through most of the interview keeps personally attacking Capstick as an atheist fundamentalist and against Canadian values. He never answers the question. It is a valid question.
Now let’s be clear. Religious organizations do a lot of good work in Canada and abroad. By all means they should be able to register an arm of their organization as a charity to further that work. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious group getting a tax break just for being a place of worship. It is not right for the taxpayers of the country, of the province, and yes even of the city or municipality to be forced to fund a faith group that they do not belong to. It’s government supporting religion. It’s not acceptable.
It’s not just federal tax breaks either. As said before, local government is in the same game too. In the City of Brandon for example, a look at the tax map will show a glaring discrepancy. Take Brockie Donovan Funeral Directors, looking at the data on the City’s own web site, the net tax bill for that property was $26,857.63 with City and School taxes taken into account. Across the street, Central United Church, an arguably larger building but with a much smaller parking lot, is billed $1,530.50 which is down from the year before. Yes, Brockie Donovan is a for-profit business and as such should probably pay more than the church, I’m willing to go that far. However, over 17 times more seems ridiculous to me, especially when it could be argued that the two organizations are in very similar practices. In fact, I suspect that over the course of a year, Brockie Donovan conducts many more “religious services” to many more denominations than does Central United Church. The discrepancy seems incredibly large to me. It may not be popular, but the practice of government funding religious organizations through obscene tax breaks can and should be questioned.
As a proud Pastafarian, using this logic, I could open up a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster downtown, complete with beer volcano and bar, and expect the taxes of the Double Decker and of The Dock to support my “church”, blatantly unfair to them, but discriminatory against Pastafarians if not allowed in the current environment.
Asking religious organizations to play by the same rules is not an attack on religious freedom, it is a demand of equality.