Religious Freedom in Canada

Principles

Our primary responsibility as Christians is to worship God and obey him. The Bible calls us to gather together with other Christians to pray and to worship God collectively. An integral part of worshipping God is speaking about him to others. We obey God's commands by loving our neighbour, seeking justice and mercy, and respecting life.

The Issue

Canada is a nation in which people of different faiths live side by side. While the majority of Canadians are Christians, 80 percent according to the 2001 Census, Canada is also home to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and atheists. Canadians have a national desire to be tolerant and not impose religious beliefs or practices on those who don't share their faith. However, this sensitivity is in danger of becoming an intolerance of faith in public life. 

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes the fundamental freedoms of religion and conscience. The Charter and provincial human rights codes prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion (sometimes referred to as creed). Additional protection of religious freedom is provided for in specific areas of federal and provincial legislation and international human rights agreements to which Canada is a signatory.

Current Status

Religious freedom is protected under the Charter, section 2(a), as well as by provincial human rights codes. Over the last 10 years, there have been increasing restrictions on the public expression of faith. For example, after 9/11, the memorial service on Parliament Hill had no religious content whatsoever. At the same time, however, courts have required that religious beliefs and practices be accommodated by employers and landlords. In the end, religion has been privatised.

There is significant pressure on religious freedom from court cases attempting to expand gay rights. Yet the courts have retained a fairly robust interpretation of religious freedom. The 2005 redefinition of marriage has given rise to a slate of new cases that will further test religious freedom in Canada. A Knights of Columbus hall faced a human rights complaint after it refused a rental for a same-sex wedding reception. Civil marriage officials have been dismissed in several provinces for refusing to solemnize same-sex weddings.

It is essential that Christians stand together in the fight for religious freedom. Every decision is important for religious freedom in Canada whether the case involves Christians, Jews or Jehovah's Witnesses.

What you can do

Freedom of religion affects everyone. If courts restrict religious expression and practices, even those of another religion, it may affect every believer in Canada. So, what can you do?

The World Evangelical Alliance has identified three stages to religious persecution. The first is disinformation. This is usually erroneous information spread through the media that develops discriminatory attitudes in the public. The second stage is discrimination. Restrictions are gradually placed on believers and/or on religious organizations that make it more difficult to practice their religion. The third stage is outright persecution.

In Canada, it is important that Christians identify and address disinformation found in the media or in public statements by politicians and others. Most media outlets have some form of complaint mechanism. Make a complaint and ask your friends to do the same. Respectfully make it clear that the kind of disinformation you have observed is not acceptable. If you become aware of disinformation being expressed by a politician then contact the individual and respectfully provide correct information.

Christians must also be willing to stand together to protect religious freedom in Canada. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada regularly intervenes in important religious freedom legal cases to encourage the courts to adopt an interpretation that offers strong protection for religious freedom in Canada. You are invited to participate in these efforts through your prayer and financial support.

EFC Resources

Check the EFC Resource Library for EFC items related to religious freedom in Canada.

General Resources

Court Interventions

Government Submissions and Open Letters

Case Law

Other Interventions and Submissions

 Other Documents

Audio & Video

Commentary

The ReligiousFreedom.ca Legal Resource List has been moved to this site. As a result there are additional resources available for your benefit in the column to the right.