Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 23, 2006
Leaders muse about religion and public policy
Faith's place varies with each politician
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Three of the four top political leaders in Canada have written essays about the role of religious faith in public policy.
Faith Today Magazine, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), asked the leaders to respond to the following question: "What role do you think faith should play in developing public policy, and what is the place of religious institutions in contemporary Canadian society?"
The only leader who did not respond was Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe.
Liberal Leader Paul Martin wrote about the multicultural Canadian mosaic as a "tapestry of diversity and vibrancy."
"As prime minister and Canadian citizen, I am an ardent believer in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the heartbeat of our Constitution, which recognizes the supremacy of God in the preamble and enshrines freedom of religion, among other basic freedoms, of our highest law," Martin wrote.
Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper also praised Canada's multifaith and multicultural character, but he was more specific about the dangers of pushing religious faith from the public square.
"It is perfectly legitimate for citizens and legislators to take into account their own deeply held faith convictions in developing public policy, provided that people remain open to the faith and philosophical perspectives of others," Harper wrote.
"In recent years, some politicians and commentators have asserted that in order to maintain the separation of Church and state, legislators should not be influenced by religious belief.
"Canada is a multicultural and pluralistic society, but this does not mean that faith has to be excluded from public life, but rather that those of different faiths and no faith should seek areas of common agreement based on their different perspectives," he said.
Harper pointed out that almost all faith communities agree that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and have a right to call for this "moral consensus to be reflected in law."
Harper also pointed to the role of charities in "feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming strangers and visiting prisoners," as well as educating children and helping the developing world.
Religion under attack
"Sadly, freedom of religion has come under attack in recent years in cases ranging from religious organizations being expected to rent facilities for same-sex marriages to pastors being threatened with human rights charges for expressing their religious beliefs," he said.
New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton co-wrote his essay with the help of NDP Deputy Leader Bill Blaikie, an ordained United Church minister.
"In a context where the public face of religion in the media tends to be focused on the religious right, it is important to remember that there has always been, and continues to be, a religious left in Canada, a religious left which has had a significant and beneficial formative influence on modern Canada," the NDP leaders wrote. "Medicare is a good example."
They pointed to the common ground often found between the religious left and right, such as a recent breakfast meeting sponsored by the EFC on global poverty.
"The challenge for Canadians who want to practise a politics that is faithful to their understanding of God, of their scriptures and of their own faith tradition, is how to do this appropriately in the secular, pluralistic and multi-faith society that Canada has become," they said.
"We live in a world that increasingly subordinates human well-being, and the integrity of creation, to the global profit strategies of multinational corporations," they wrote.
"There will always be a role for Christians, and for people of other faiths, to speak out of their prophetic traditions, challenging the rulers of their day to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, and to measure their political choices not in terms of how they help the rich and already powerful, but how they help the hungry, the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized and the environment that future generations will have to live in," they wrote.
The prophetic voice
"The prophetic voice may not always be welcome in public policy debates, but it is essential that its role be defended as one of the important ways that the spirit speaks to us in human history."