It used to be that anyone who lived in a country such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States could be excused for taking religious freedom for granted. That can no longer be the case.
There is an erosion of freedom taking place in these societies that stems from a misguided notion of what it means to be open toward and accepting of newcomers who hold beliefs and ideas that may be foreign to their new host nation. There are several examples worldwide that suggest we are witnessing a growing backlash against the traditional Christian backdrop that gave rise to the recognition of the very freedoms under assault today.
Two of the most recent examples come from Canada. Check out the reaction of homosexual activists to the appointment of a conservative Christian to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board:
“If you want to appoint him, put him on the Wheat Board, where he’s not going to be making life and death decisions on refugee claims.”
That’s how Helen Kennedy from the group EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) puts it in The Ottawa Sun as she responds to the appointment of Doug Cryer to the board, which evaluates the claims of those seeking to come to Canada as refugees. Cryer’s “crime” was his opposition to same-sex marriage and his defence of churches’ right to publicly declare homosexual behaviour sinful. That is apparently enough for activists to put a person’s objectivity in doubt. Before he’s even heard one case or made one decision, some are ready to pounce on Cryer based on his constitutionally protected religious and social beliefs. For left-wing New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, Cryer’s beliefs mean he cannot be fair in hearing refugee claims from people claiming persecution because of their homosexuality. Is this the first step in the application of a religious litmus test to people who seek a role in Canada’s public life?
And it gets worse. In Canada you can get into trouble if you are the country’s science minister and you’re not prepared to kneel at the altar of Charles Darwin. That is a “sin” that will lead to days of controversy in the national media. The Globe and Mail newspaper thought it was front-page news to declare that Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear refused to state that he believed life on Earth evolved from lower life forms. Asked about the issue, Goodyear told a Globe reporter he was a Christian and didn’t think questions about his religion were appropriate or had any bearing on how well he could do his job. But the paper trotted out supposed experts in the field from the Evolution Education Research Centre and the Canadian Association of University Teachers to express their shock and dismay at Goodyear’s comments. But the most honest moment in the “reporting” came in the following sentence:
“Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear … is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.”
And therein lies the most pressing yet unexplored question that seems to have been missed. Once again, a public figure’s competence comes into question because of a personal belief, not because of anything he’s actually done. Again, the victim is a Christian. Still don’t see the point? Let’s play with the above key sentence then. What if the Globe article had gone this way:
“Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear … is hostile to women, perhaps because he is a Muslim.”
Which media outlet would leave that rationale untouched? By what logic would that not be considered a bigoted statement such that anyone who made it would be at the centre of controversy instead of Gary Goodyear?
But there are also instances of unanswered anti-Christian bigotry in the United States, Australia, and Britain. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney recently spoke to Oxford University Newman Society about the intolerance he’s seen of Christians in the public square. Perhaps his most egregious example was the vitriolic response against those who opposed California’s Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that reversed the state’s same-sex marriage law in November. While churches were vandalized, and anti-Prop 8 supporters were intimidated, others were blacklisted at their workplaces. Cardinal Pell went on to describe the effect of this sort of attack on Christianity: stripping believers of their ability to speak out publicly on issues that affect American society. The virtual media silence amid the violence in California only made things worse, of course.
The Australian prelate also cites terrible anti-Christian attacks in his own country. His prime example, of course, is a change in the state of Victoria’s abortion law last year. While the law decriminalized abortion, any amendments that would’ve allowed doctors who object to the procedure to exercise their freedom of conscience were rejected. The rationale? It would allow doctors or nurses to “force” their beliefs on women. Instead, the state forces others’ beliefs on the medical community. And once again, official secularism runs roughshod over religious freedom.
But perhaps the worst onslaught against Christianity is taking place in Britain. The attacks are plentiful, but the one occurrence that stands out involves a foster mother who was barred from foster parenting for “allowing a Muslim girl in her care to convert to Christianity.” Peter C. Glover relates in the journal First Things that this chilling turn of events took place in November, 2008. Despite being discouraged from doing so, a Muslim girl in the care of an Anglican woman insisted on attending a Christian church. It was mere months before the girl asked to be baptized. That was the last straw for British officials. They stuck the Anglican woman from the list of possible foster parents for “failing in her duty to preserve the girl’s religion.” Such is the state of religious freedom in the United Kingdom.
So, the global offensive against religious freedom carries on. Bit by bit, the foot soldiers of ideological purity are training their weapons on all public expressions of Christian thought. But beyond recognizing the problem, there needs to be a response. Where secularism tries to stamp out freedom, defenders of liberty need to stand. When anti-Christian bigotry shows up in the public square, those who believe in equality must speak out against it. Perhaps Cardinal Pell puts it best when he says, “Believers need to call the bluff of what is, even in most parts of Europe, a small minority with disproportionate influence in the media.”
Daniel Proussalidis is a journalist and broadcaster in Ottawa, Canada.