Friday, March 20, 2015

A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them

Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 12:

[43]                          The context before us — state regulation of religious schools — poses the question of how to balance robust protection for the values underlying religious freedom with the values of a secular state.  Part of secularism, however, is respect for religious differences.  A secular state does not — and cannot — interfere with the beliefs or practices of a religious group unless they conflict with or harm overriding public interests.  Nor can a secular state support or prefer the practices of one group over those of another: Richard Moon, "Freedom of Religion Under the Charter of Rights : The Limits of State Neutrality" (2012), 45 U.B.C. L. Rev.497, at pp. 498-99.  The pursuit of secular values means respecting the right to hold and manifest different religious beliefs.  A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.

[44]                          Through this form of neutrality, the state affirms and recognizes the religious freedom of individuals and their communities.  As Prof. Moon noted:

Underlying the [state] neutrality requirement, and the insulation of religious beliefs and practices from political decision making, is a conception of religious beliefs or commitment as deeply rooted, or commitment as an element of the individual's identity, rather than simply a choice or judgment she or he has made.  Religious belief lies at the core of the individual's worldview.  It orients the individual in the world, shapes his or her perception of the social and natural orders, and provides a moral framework for his or her actions. Moreover, religious belief ties the individual to a community of believers and is often the central or defining association in her or his life.  The individual believer participates in a shared system of practices and values that may, in some cases, be described as a "way of life". If religion is an aspect of the individual's identity, then when the state treats his or her religious practices or beliefs as less important or less true than the practices of others, or when it marginalizes her or his religious community in some way, it is not simply rejecting the individual's views and values, it is denying her or his equal worth. [Footnote omitted; p. 507.]

[45]                          Because it allows communities with different values and practices to peacefully co-exist, a secular state also supports pluralism.  The European Court of Human Rights recognized the relationship between religious freedom, secularism and pluralism in Kokkinakis v. Greece, judgment of 25 May 1993, Series A No. 260-A, a case about a Jehovah's Witness who had been repeatedly arrested for violating Greece's ban on proselytism.  Concluding that the claimant's Article 9 rights to religious freedom had been violated, the court wrote:

     As enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a "democratic society" within the meaning of the Convention.  It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned.  The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it. [p. 17]

See also Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia v. Moldova, No. 45701/99, ECHR 2001-XII.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder where and how Sharia law will fit into this premise.