“The Civil Administration shall take no cognizance of religion.”
~ James Madison
James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that “The civil administration shall take no cognizance of religion.” That has been the hallmark of progressive constitutional liberalism. The framework within which societies of inclusiveness and tolerance advance.
For all the historically progressive encounters of Quebec history, school funding has not been one of them. It has had a troublesome evolution from its very beginnings with the inherent advantages granted to Catholics and Protestants. Attempts to right those initial wrongs by spreading tax dollars around more equitably toward other religious and ethnic groups are misguided and doom us to a frustrating future of futile failures.
The use of school tax dollars is a fragile trust whose sole purpose should be to fund quality public education accessible to all in a system that is bi-lingual and non-denominational. School boards’ legitimacy must be rationalized based on natural community geography not on political language imperatives. This is the only way we can ever be assured of the victory of our shared humanity over our parochial prejudices.
We need political leadership that has the courage to radically reform the mistakes of the shriveled spirits and hostile hearts of the past. A leadership whose trust in the people is qualified only by prudence and not one those whose mistrust of the people is qualified only by fear.
Freedom of religion has never implied, and should never imply, the elevation of any aspect of religious sacrament to the level of secular right. It is not appropriate for the state to validate, encourage or finance faith-based estates. This principle must hold true not only on the question of education, but on other issues such as demands by gays that government involve itself in their demands to carry out religious unions called “marriages”, and the demands of certain Islamic groups for independent imperatives for their religious family courts.
The only role for the state in family law is strictly to interpret the “contract” between parties and the rights flowing from that. The bases of contract law as the fundamental construct for the interpretation of relations between governors and governed has been primordial since Magna Carta. Any demands by citizens to bring faith-based estates, or tribunals, to an equal level in public law should be considered illegitimate.
All citizens have a right to the protection of equal and equitable considerations under one set of laws of universal application that reflect our common humanity. Nothing more, nothing less. Any prejudice to, or compromise of, these principles in order to appeal to special interests will make the evocation of our most noble aspirations to liberty and tolerance objects of dangerous derision.
We are witnessing a regression that threatens us all. The siren calls for pseudo-religious rights to be insinuated into, or to fall under the protection of, the public corpus, are being made under the thinly-veiled tutelage of forces inimical to all traditions of constitutional liberalism. Neither adherence to canon law, nor fidelity to cultural origins, nor indulgence in sexual proclivities should be used as anvils upon which to beat the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the contorted dimensions these various groups demand.
Trudeau’s purpose with the Charter was to enshrine the supremacy of the individual over any forms of discrimination by the state or demands of particularity by a collective. Too often this purpose has been twisted by “progressives” who insist that it created new classes of group rights. It was never meant to do that.
State submission to special interests will do nothing more than heighten irrational feelings of superiority and strengthen unreasonable commitments to particularity. Rather than encouraging social peace, they will incite further irritation between religious and secular, straight and gay, as our legal system struggles to accommodate the inevitable explosions of legislation, regulation and exception.
That every individual has a natural, moral, right to submit to canonical doctrine, undertake religious education or indulge in nonconformist lifestyles is not in question. But on no account should we allow their demands for material support, whether legal or financial, to prevail upon the patrimony of civil society by forcing that society to legitimize separateness and exclusivity in its public law.
Catering to exclusive-and exclusivist-communities of interest is an aberration from, and an affront to, democracy.
Government’s proper role is to protect people from incitement and violence against their personal practices, so long as those practices do not violate the rights of others, and enforce the foundational principles of liberal democracy which are based on separation of church and state; independence of the judiciary; the supremacy of the people’s suffrage; and the sovereignty of the liberty of the individual over any corporate or collective demands of the state.
As Thomas D’Arcy McGee said in 1865, “This Northern Dominion can grow—under one flag and one set of laws—into one great nation. It cannot achieve this goal--under that same flag and under those same laws—by pandering to a thousand squabbling sets of interests.” Only with this in mind can we as Canadians ever vindicate the possibilities of our own capacities.
Beryl P. Wajsman
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal