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Religion vs. Law

February 19th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Religion and the law seem to frequently collide. In secular societies, religion is supposed to be separate from the law. Law is meant to provide everyone in society with certain guarantees and protections, including the freedom of religion. So, there’s the rub. What do we do when freedom of religion directly contravenes the law of the land?

There are numerous headlines that attest to this delicate balance. Recently, a group of Muslim immigrants petitioned a Manitoba board of education to remove their children from music and co-ed physical education classes. Last week, the Quebec legislature banned Sikhs from wearing a kirpan (ceremonial dagger) in the legislature. A private member’s bill has been put forth that would require Muslim women to unveil before voting. Arguably the biggest tango between religion and the law currently in Canada is the case regarding the polygamous sect in Bountiful, BC. A hearing is underway to determine whether Canada’s 1890 anti-polygamy law violates freedom of religion.

Clearly, the protection of citizens must be paramount for the legal system to be purposeful; however, what does that protection entail? If a fringe group of minority Muslims want to remove their children from certain classes, should they be allowed? Is it any different than allowing Catholic parents to remove their children from sexual education classes? How is the anonymity of veiled women voting different than the many Canadians who mail their votes in or show up to the polls without photo identification? Why have we suddenly decided that after years of allowing Sikhs to wear the kirpan in the legislature to suddenly change it? Is it the widespread suspicion of any religion that doesn’t posses a specific Judeo-Christian ideology? If three or more consenting adults want to marry, should they legally have the right? Clearly, the exploitation of minors should be rigorously investigated and persecuted; however, are child exploitation and polygamy unequivocally mutually exclusive? In our secular society, can marriage even be defined as exclusively religious?

I have a lot of thoughts concerning these topics, which I’ll share in next week’s Incubation follow-up post. For now, I’d like to hear from you.

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