Outgoing Letters and Public Statements


December 23, 2005
Who Decides What is Harmful to Society?
Re: Freedom to Swing editorial (Dec. 22) - National Post

The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, or so we are told.

The decision in the recent Supreme Court of Canada swingers cases makes the bedrooms bigger, and now includes commercial ventures that advertise and attract people for group sexual activity requiring payment to participate.

Of course the state does have a legitimate concern about what goes on in the bedroom if it includes criminal activity. The question now is whether it has any business in what the Criminal Code calls common bawdy houses, defined as places where indecent acts are performed? The Supreme Court has decided no, it doesn't have any business there--other than perhaps to collect taxes.

Until now, an activity was "indecent" if it failed the "Canadian community standard of decency", a standard established by Parliament and applied by the courts. The issue before the court was not whether the activity was immoral, but whether it was inappropriate according to Canadians standards of tolerance because of the place and context in which it took place. The question before the court was whether orgies undertaken in a public place where it is necessary to pay to participate--in effect paying for the sexual services of others--contrary to the Canadian standard of tolerance and therefore an indecent activity? The notion of indecency was used to limit activity such as strip clubs and lap dancing as well as restrict pornography. The Supreme Court has now replaced this standard with new standard of harm and has decided that consenting adults engaging in group sex acts in a public place like a club is not harmful to the participants or to society at large.

On what basis did the court choose to abandon the notion of indecency tied to community standards? Not because to rule otherwise would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Rather, the judges felt that deciding what was contrary to public morality was too difficult for judges. So rather than asking Parliament, the author of the Criminal Code, for more clarity, they simply bypassed the intent of Parliament and have chosen to ignore the long established community standards test. 

They substituted their own notion of indecency based solely on harm. The courts will only find something harmful if they decide it is incompatible with the "proper functioning of Canadian society." The judges admit that this is also a value judgment. It seems the court would rather have judges engage in value judgments than trying to discern the values of Canadians.

Even at that, the judges did not consider the harm that "swinging" and "group sex" has on society, such as the psychological harm of resulting from exploitation and objectification, harm to relationships and families, harm to children whose parents swap sexual partners. These cannot simply be ignored in favour of the value of "autonomy" that Chief Justice McLachlin has discovered to be a fundamental constitutional principle. So, who should be the arbiter of morality and the definer of social norms in Canada? Is harm to be the only criterion for public morality? And who is to decide what is harmful for Canadian society?

The dissent said "We are convinced that this new approach strips of all relevance the social values that the Canadian community as a whole believes should be protected. To place an excessive emphasis on the criterion of harm will therefore make it impossible to give effect to the moral principles in respect of which there is a consensus in the community"

It is the role of Parliament to determine our common moral standards and establish minimum standards of social morality by enacting legislation such as the Criminal Code. As a religious organization, we often hear complaints when we speak out on sexual morality. People accuse us of trying to impose our morality on them. Meanwhile they demand that we accept their moral standards. Finding common ground will be difficult and we need venues that will facilitate constructive debates about the limits of social tolerance and which community standards will be upheld. We may decide that all we can have in common is an agreement about a narrow conception of harm. I would contend for more--but we ought to have the discussion and a necessary forum is Parliament. Now is a good time for the party leaders to weigh in and tell us if they consider community standards of tolerance the sole competence of the courts or whether they believe Parliament and the people they are elected to represent should have a say.

Bruce J. Clemenger
EFC President

Note: See also Janet Epp Buckingham's commentary on the swingers decision, published in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 27, 2005).

December 16, 2005
Kudos for Highlighting Religious Persecution
Re: China detains 29 from underground church (Dec. 15) - Globe and Mail

Thank you for publishing the Associated Press article about the detention and ongoing persecution of Christians in China. You have drawn attention to a story that urgently needs to be told. The global Christian community is increasingly the target of violent persecution, including imprisonment, torture and even death. In fact, the World Evangelical Alliance estimates that over 200 million Christians in more than 60 countries are denied their basic human rights simply because of their beliefs. And these numbers are growing.

Thank you for highlighting this issue. I hope it encourages greater awareness and broader dialogue about issues of religious persecution in Canada.

Anne Brandner
EFC Religious Liberty Commission

December 14, 2005
Word "Fundamentalist" Misused
Re: "Faith in the politicians: Federal election: Religion figures prominently in campaign" by Eve Edmonds (Dec. 13) - The Richmond News

I agree with the The Ottawa Citizen that parents who want their children to learn religion I was very disappointed to see the word fundamentalist used to describe the religious beliefs or associations of two candidates, a Conservative and a Liberal, neither of whom use the word to describe themselves. At a time when the terms fundamentalism and extremism are used interchangeably to describe persons who use violence to impose their religious beliefs, I find it unconscionable for a journalist such as Eve Edmonds to use such a pejorative and unwarranted term.

All of the candidates mentioned, as well as the spokesperson for the Centre for Faith and the Media, apparently agree that religious beliefs or the lack thereof can and do inform politics, both on the political left and the right. Why then use the term "fundamentalist" in association with two who are Protestants while calling others, identified as Catholics, "devout"--a far more respectful characterization? Rather than a reflection of the beliefs of the candidates, the use of language seems to be an expression of the bias of Ms Edmonds.

Bruce J. Clemenger
EFC President

December 14, 2005
Kudos for Persecuted Christians Articles
Re: "They Persecute. We Apologize" by Charles Moore (Dec. 14) - National Post

Thank you for printing Charles Moore’s article about religious persecution and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent visit to Pakistan.

I appreciate Moore’s willingness to ask difficult questions about the reconciliation of religious groups with an often-violent history, and to express his own misgivings about the Archbishop’s decision to answer brutal and widespread persecution with quiet, or “muted,” diplomacy. These issues are worth our thoughtful consideration.

Moore also writes plainly about the ongoing brutal persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, reinforcing that while Christians in the west are still considered by some to be a cultural majority, the global Christian community is increasingly the target of oppression and violent persecution. The World Evangelical Alliance estimates that over 200 million Christians in more than 60 countries are denied their basic human rights simply because of their beliefs. And these numbers are growing. Accounts like the ones Moore highlights from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are being repeated around the world daily, and urgently need to be told.

Thank you for raising this important issue in your paper. We hope to see more information on religious persecution in Canada's mainstream media.

Anne Brandner
EFC Religious Liberty Commission

December 7, 2005
Born-Agains Among "Less Likeable"
Re: We'll Take Manhattans, by Jessica Warner which refers to Christmas presents for "the less likeable people in our lives: office mates, ex-spouses, born-again Christians" (Dec. 3) - The Globe and Mail

We would appreciate it if you would inform Jessica Warner that discriminatory remarks against persons on the basis of their religion is not acceptable. We urge you to inform your editorial staff that this is not appropriate. The Globe and Mail has historically had an editorial policy that supports minority groups and denounces discrimination. We trust that you are maintaining this editorial policy and that it is applied consistently to everyone. We would appreciate a response to these requests. We will post both this letter and your response on our website www.evangelicalfellowship.ca

Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

September 27, 2005
Imposing Morality
Re: Morality Legislation Opposed, by James Cowan (Sept. 26) - National Post

Thou shalt not legislate morality is the conclusion, we are told, of many Canadians. Are we really becoming a nation of libertarians? The agendas of all three levels of government suggest otherwise. Governments do legislate morality: what is the criminal code but a moral code? And it is not just the social conservatives who seek to influence what is or is not imposed. 
When we opposed the redefinition of marriage we were told we were trying to impose our morality on others. Our opponents, meanwhile, were making moral arguments for their preferred definition. Unless the government gets out of the marriage business, it is the government that imposes a public definition – the rest of us try to persuade. 
Wanting common moral standards is not exclusive to conservatives or the so called religious right. Small “l” liberals and the religious left want them as well. Some on the “left” want corporal discipline banned – we need to protect children from harm. Some on the “right” want restrictions on abortion – we need to protect unborn children from death. Neither are persuaded by the contention that refusing to legislate is morally neutral. Both believe it is a decision to refuse to protect the most vulnerable in our midst - a moral choice. Both want restrictions on what others claim are personal matters.
The majority of Canadians want morality legislated; where the real debate lay is in what issues of morality governments should legislate. The simplistic debate of Charter pro or con and who is the true champion of Canadian values of the last election must be replaced with a substantive dialogue about the principles of fundamental justice the Charter mentions but does not identify or define, and the states’ role in promoting freedom and equality and their proper limits. Otherwise the moral standards that are enshrined in law will reflect power politics and manipulation rather than the pursuit of justice and the common good. 
Bruce J. Clemenger, President
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

July 30, 2005
Faith-based Efforts Deserve Respect, by Henry A. Giroux
Re: "Rapture Politics" (July 24, 2005) - Toronto Star

Shame on the Toronto Star for printing a fear-mongering diatribe against religious conservatives in the United States.

While we are bracing ourselves for the possibility of terrorist attacks at the hands of religious extremists, Henry A. Giroux uses the same language of extremism and zealotry to describe those who support the faith-based social service initiatives in the U.S., or care for the poor and marginalized as an expression of their faith. How many hospitals, hospices and educational institutions in Canada were founded by religious organizations? To lump the Ku Klux Klan, robber barons and the National Association of Evangelicals together is to promote contempt against evangelicals. He attempts to mobilize secular humanists to political action by promoting fear and contempt for others. How does this contribute towards his end of trying to “bring people together through the discourse of public morality, civic engagement and the ethical imperatives of democracy?”

The irony is that he admits the targets of his slander are actually contributing to this solution. He writes, “Unfortunately, these faith-based groups provide people not only with a sense of identity in a time of crisis, but they also offer a sense of public efficacy; that is, they furnish the promise of social agency in which individuals can exercise solidarity through a sense of meaning and action in their lives.” How is this anti-democratic or evil? He admits perhaps it is not.

So what is Giroux’s point? It seems that his concern is that people who represent values he dislikes are having democratic success and that secular humanists are losing influence.

In response to those he feels are blurring the line between church and state, he suggests the line be all but eliminated. His basic point is that politics--not religion--should provide meaning, purpose and dignity to all. So much for the concept of limited government.

Then Giroux says that secular humanists should invoke Jesus in their cause. His Rousseauian response to the democratic movements that he despises is to eliminate the separation of church and state, and have the state promote his civil religion. Just who is anti-democratic?

Bruce Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

July 22, 2005
Re: How We Got to the Chapel
Letter to the editor - The Ottawa Citizen

Canada is a just and tolerant nation. We all agree with that. But Adèle Mercier’s commentary betrays a deep intolerance for anyone that disagrees with her view. Same-sex marriage is one of the most deeply divisive issues Canadians have faced in the last decade. To portray her side of that divide as “moral” and those on the other side as guilty of “ugly, complex and hateful prejudice” is rather indicative of her own “ugly, complex and hateful prejudice.”

Mercier’s commentary is also filled with inaccuracies, from the list of government witnesses to the assertion that those advocating gay marriage did not receive any government funds (they were funded through the court challenges program).

It is also inaccurate to say that no one objected to redefining “spouse” in earlier cases. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, in coalition with others, strenuously fought the redefinition spouse, both in the courts and at the political level, because we understood this would threaten the definition of marriage.

Mercier’s triumphalism will not advance the cause of living in harmony but further perpetuates the deep divisions in Canada over this issue. We do need to live together and respect each other’s differences. I respect Mercier’s right to hold her views - though as expressed in this piece, they reveal/display exactly the kind of unacceptable stereotyping and bigotry that she so vehemently opposes.

Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

July 20, 2005
Re: Globe and Mail Editorial
Letter to the editor - The Globe and Mail

It is interesting that the Globe and Mail has taken an editorial position that is less accommodating of religious freedom than that of EGALE. EGALE spokesman Laurie Arron testified before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that civil marriage officials can and should be accommodated.

The editorial likens the role of a marriage commissioner solemnizing a marriage to that of a hotel clerk renting a room. This view reduces the role of the marriage commissioner to a mere functionary. Anyone who has officiated at a wedding knows this is not the case. A marriage commissioner is – and ought to be - intimately involved in the union of the couple getting married.

The general law of the land is that employees deserve to be accommodated in their religious beliefs. For example, a human rights tribunal upheld the right of a Jehovah’s Witness store clerk not to be forced to make a Christmas display because his religion does not recognize Christmas.

Marriage commissioners can be accommodated. No one should be forced to solemnize a marriage that they cannot, because of their religious beliefs, recognize as valid. Nor would a gay or lesbian couple wish to have their union solemnized by an official who believes the union is wrong.

No one should be denied the joy of solemnizing marriages because of their religious conscience. It simply needn’t be.

Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

June 12, 2005
Re: Gay Advocates Target Churches' Charitable Status
Letter to the editor - The Ottawa Citizen

The proposed amendment to protect charitable status is to protect the religious practices of religious groups that define marriage as begin between a man and a woman, not the right to fight this issue politically. Religious charities have always lived under the same rules on political activity as all other charities, whether or not we are in an election. Church groups are well aware of the restrictions and generally abide by them.

Religious groups have weighted in on both sides of the debate over the definition of marriage. It is unreasonable to target charities on one side of the issue and say that they should not have the right to speak in the public square on these issues.

This article has raised undue fears on the part of the church community that their charitable status is being threatened.

Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

April 22, 2005
Ottawa Can't Ignore 15,000 Voices
Letter to the editor - National Post

While the media is fixated on the Gomery inquiry as the central focus for the looming election call, millions of Canadians have something else on their mind - they are deeply concerned about the definition of marriage. On April 9, for example, more than 15,000 people turned out on Parliament Hill on a sunny Saturday afternoon for a rally supporting the traditional definition of marriage. Most of the media pretended it did not happen.

Poll results consistently show that Canadians are deeply divided on this issue. Depending on the polling question, up to 66% of Canadians want to retain the traditional definition of marriage.

MPs have been deluged with e-mail, faxes and phone calls on this issue, most demanding the MP support the traditional definition of marriage.

For many Canadians, this is a core issue. It goes to the heart of what it means to be family. They are concerned that separating marriage from having children will cut marriage off at the knees. Early evidence from European countries where marriage has been redefined shows a steep drop in both marriage rates and childbirth. Canadians justifiably worry about the future of marriage in Canada if it is redefined - what will be the impact for our children and their children?

Equally important are the threats to freedom of speech and freedom of expression for those of us who believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Even today, teacher Chris Kempling is in a B.C. court trying to overturn his one-month suspension for making public comments about his beliefs on this issue.

Catholic Bishop Fred Henry is facing a human rights complaint in Calgary for a pastoral letter he wrote on the marriage issue.

The Knights of Columbus is facing a human rights complaint in Vancouver for refusing to rent their hall, on church property, to a lesbian couple for their wedding.

Over a quarter of Canadians are deeply opposed to redefining marriage on the basis of their religious beliefs. What will happen to us if marriage is redefined?

Poll results from Enshrine Marriage Canada show that not only do the majority of Canadians oppose redefining marriage but that it will affect their vote in the next election.

So while the Gomery commission may be the issue spurring election talk, politicians and the media should not ignore the marriage issue as we head back to the polls. It will make a difference.

Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

April 10, 2005
Bibles Excluded from Schools
Letter to the editor published April 12 - Toronto Star

Slinger (“His gift or His goof”) argues that if Evangelicals in the United States want stickers on science textbooks saying that evolution is a theory then they should accept stickers on Bibles that say they contain things that some people believe in. What he misses is that science textbooks are required reading for students while Bibles are excluded from schools.

The theory of evolution, while widely accepted, is a theory. I was rather disappointed when I reached university level science classes and discovered that much of what I was taught as fact in school was actually theory, and some of it had since been disproved. It does not assist the educational process to mislead students about what is fact and what is theory.

And there should be a place to teach students about the beliefs of others. A United Nations conference in Madrid in 2001 recommended that schools worldwide teach students about the various beliefs of the worlds major religions in order to foster understanding and mutual respect. Perhaps if those recommendations are adopted by Canadian schools, there will be more understanding of beliefs of others.

While Galileo suffered persecution at the hands of the church for his beliefs, have we not now turned the tables to exclude and marginalize the beliefs of Christians simply because they are based on the Bible.

Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

April 5, 2005
Pluralism or Secularism?
Re: "Chipping Away at Religious Freedom", by Lorne Gunter - National Post

The slow chipping away of religious freedom unmasks the emerging nature of Canadian pluralism. Is Canada a religiously plural and multicultural society or is it becoming a secularist melting pot, one where all are expected to conform to a narrow range of values? Where adherence to another creed is accepted so long as it is done in private? Where public expression is only tolerated if it is sanitized and expresses secular values?

This seems true considering how the life and work of John Paul II has been celebrated--with the exception of his views of human life and sexuality. Yet it was his unwavering commitment to the sanctity of human life and the dignity of all humans, grounded in his Christian faith, that animated his concern for the poor and his promotion of human rights.

This selective approach to the public expression of faith is not a way of managing plurality that accommodates religious diversity, but rather the emergence of a hegemony that proscribes what religion should be. In this context human rights codes, intended to protect diversity, can become an inquisition that punishes dissent from the new state creed.

That being said, proceeding with the human rights complaint against Bishop Henry would set a troubling and dangerous precedent. Will specifically religious views of sexual morality and its consequences be censored? Whether one agrees with the Bishop's views or not, a robust understanding of freedom of expression and tolerance should allow public expression of deeply held views on moral practice.

Bruce J. Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


Outgoing Letters


EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger writes regular commentaries about public policy issues. The EFC magazine Faith Today often publishes articles and essays that examine such issues.

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