Posts Tagged ‘Law’

The Lev Tahor Controversy in Canada

March 13th, 2014 No comments

I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to comment on yet another religious controversy making headlines in my home country.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Canada lately, then you may have heard about a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, creating quite the controversy here in the Great White North.  Now, Canada tends to be known for its multiculturalism, and as a champion of individual rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  Although admirable, at times this tolerance creates a firestorm of controversy.

Late last year, media stories began percolating about a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews living in a secluded and tight-knit community in Quebec.  They were clashing with the province over the education of their children, and fled to Ontario in order to privately educate their children (read about issues surrounding private and public education in my post on Creationism in Canada).  What began as an increasingly common story, religious rights versus the public education system, has turned into a media frenzy with accusations circulating of child endangerment, suspicious charitable donations, and religious discrimination.

I won’t bother rehashing all the details that have been steadfastly published in the media.  You can do that for yourself, here, here, and here.  You should also consider watching two investigative reports available on YouTube, one by Global’s 16×9, and the other by CBC’s Fifth Estate.  Both provide some interesting insight into this group, particularly during the interview segments.  Regardless of how sensationally the information has been portrayed in the media, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t quite right.  So, should Lev Tahor be considered a legitimate religious group simply trying to live in accordance with their beliefs, or are they a dangerous cult?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I hesitate to label minority religious groups, fringe religious groups, or new religious groups as a cult, because the word is far too often misused and abused.  That said, after researching Lev Tahor, something is terrible amiss with the leaders of this group.

It’s no secret that I champion religious tolerance and freedom; however, it’s important to clarify that there are exceptions.  For example, religious rights should never trump basic human rights.  If there is even the suspicion that Lev Tahor children are not being properly cared for, then a full investigation is warranted.  Lev Tahor claims they have nothing to hide, then open your doors and let social service workers have unfettered access to your way of life.

There are also questions surrounding how Lev Tahor generates income, particularly when so few members work outside the community.  According to community leaders, generous donors help sustain the community.  It was reported that at least one charity run by Lev Tahor had their charitable status revoked.  As a taxpayer, I’d like to ensure that tax exemptions are indeed being given to real charities. Further, it was reported that some Lev Tahor members receive thousands of dollars in child tax benefits.  This causes me concern too.  Child tax benefits are intended to ensure that children are being adequately taken care of, but clearly there are numerous accusations that suggest otherwise.  This must be investigated fully.

I don’t wish to see Lev Tahor members persecuted, but there are too many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.  I hope that officials and the media can do so in a responsible and unbiased manner, so that religious freedoms and basic human rights are appropriately balanced and equally championed.  Anything less would be ‘un-Canadian’.

Do you have thoughts or questions about this story?  I’d like to hear from you!

M. xo

Categories: Religion Tags: , , , ,

Is Capital Punishment Ever Justified?

September 22nd, 2011 No comments

Two news stories caught my attention this morning.  One about the execution of convicted cop killer, Troy Davis and the other regarding the execution of white supremacist, Lawrence Russell Brewer.  Two men, two executions — yet, the discussions concerning both are very different.

Many claim (including Davis himself), that Davis was an innocent man being put to death.  There were international protests, sparking celebrities to use their star power to support a stay of execution.  In the end, Davis died at the hands of the Georgia judicial system.  Meanwhile, Brewer’s execution was met with little pleas for leniency – other than from the victim’s family who wanted Brewer’s sentence to be commuted to life in prison.  Despite the wishes of the victim’s family, Brewer met a similar fate as Davis.

In my opinion, neither of these executions should have gone forth.  Davis’ case is wrought with doubt, which clearly (to me, at least) should have led to a stay of execution.  Brewer’s case is a bit different.  His guilt is less questioned; however, the victim’s family steadfastly opposed the execution.  In this instance, I believe the wishes of the family should have been considered.

In broader terms, is capital punishment ever justified?  My belief is that in a civilized society, it isn’t.  Killing is not ‘civilized’.  Furthermore, the irony of this discussion is that justice systems in ‘civilized’ societies have a mandate to protect the rights of their prisoners.  In many cases this means suitable living conditions, access to adequate nutrition, medical care, the pursuit of higher learning, the right to vote, access to various forms of entertainment, etc.  In ‘civilized’ societies, where the death penalty exists, these rights may be granted to death row inmates.  Yet, the right to life is not.  It’s seems like a tragic irony that these institutions spend untold amounts of money keeping prisoners healthy and well that they are eventually going to kill.

Personally, I think the solution is to abolish the death penalty and simultaneously start clawing back some of the ‘perks’ enjoyed by the most hardened criminals.  I don’t believe ‘civilized’ societies should be in the business of killing.  Neither do I believe that the worst of criminals should enjoy what average, law-abiding citizens work hard to obtain (such as a university or college education or access to cable television).  Sure we must treat all people with some level of dignity, but should murderers be treated better than law-abiding citizens?  Hell, no!

For me, killing is not the best option we have in a civilized society.  Nor do we have to grant heinous criminals the good things in life that many citizens struggle to obtain.  The monsters among society should be locked up with the absolute basic necessities to ensure a long and miserable life behind bars.  No access to the internet, television, or education.  They lost those pursuits when they barbarically took another life.

Somehow, I doubt we’ve heard the last of the Davis case.  Was he innocent?  I don’t know.  The facts of the case certainly support doubt of his guilt.  That, for me, is enough to take a long hard look at capital punishment.  I also doubt that this is the first case of a potentially innocent man being put to death.  For me, that equates to murder.  In these cases, how will justice be found for the potentially innocent citizens killed by the societies meant to protect them?

Categories: Society and Culture Tags: ,

Marriage Equality

June 26th, 2011 No comments

New York state recently passed a marriage equality bill giving way for same-sex couples to legally tie the knot.  So, how could this affect the tens of thousands practicing polygamy which is currently illegal?  Plural marriage has been coming out of the proverbial closet with recent news headlines, television shows and reality programming putting it in the mainstream sphere of discussion.  There are compelling arguments on both sides; however, a closer examination suggests that some of those arguments aren’t mutually exclusive to this discussion.

Many opponents to plural marriage point to the exploitation of women and children as just cause to continue outlawing the practice.  High profile cases such as the Warren Jeffs case have made sensational headlines claiming arranged under-aged marriages and various other abuses perpetrated on young girls.  Clearly, any proven abuses should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, especially in cases where children are involved.  These sensational headlines fail to discuss the fact that abuses against women and children are not mutually exclusive to polygamy.  There are plenty of documented cases of monogamous relationships in which children and women are abused.  There are also many documented cases of polygamous spouses and children who live productive, happy and healthy lives in their plural families.  Why then are prosecutors focusing on the abuses occurring within some plural relationships as inherently part of the lifestyle?  Regardless of the lifestyle, the focus should be on the abuses perpetrated.  Let’s be clear, not all polygamists commit these acts – just like not all teenagers who dress in black trench coats and listen to Marilyn Manson are going to plot to shoot their classmates.

There are also arguments that suggest that polygamy is amoral and that legislation is required to provide a social and moral compass to citizens.  Again, I question that line of thinking.  Sure, it may be immoral from a certain religious standpoint – however, there are plenty of religions that believe plural marriage is mandated by a higher authority.  Since I live in a society that was founded on Christian values I get why so many may find the idea of plural marriage a bit distasteful – but let’s also remember that we live in a secular society in which our religious ideology is supposed to be separated from the law.  And it would serve many Christians well to recall that there are numerous instances in the Bible in which various characters take more than one wife.  So, again I think this argument falls flat.  Let’s leave religion out of it – and that includes the arguments from some Fundamental Mormons that it falls under the realm of religious freedom.  Arguments that are founded on religious ideology invariably lead to a slippery slope.

Let’s look at this from a logical standpoint.  What’s inherently wrong with polygamy?  If two or more consenting adults want to commit a lifetime to one another – why not?  How can more love be a bad thing – especially where children are concerned?  I agree that the children of plural marriages aren’t given a choice in the matter, but the same is true of children who are born into a broken marriage, a single-parent home, a fundamental religious home, an impoverished home, etc.  We can’t start legislating who gets to have a family based on these ideas.  For all the abuses uncovered in these marginalized or unconventional families there are many more success stories.

Personally I think we are doing the spouses and children of plural marriages a huge disservice by not making it legal.  The non-legal spouses and children of these marriages have no recourse in cases of separation, death of one of their spouses or reporting abuse to the authorities.  I suggest the last point because I’m willing to bet that a spouse of an abusive polygamous relationship may be unwilling to go to the authorities for fear of being prosecuted themselves, simply because of their lifestyle.

There’s something clearly wrong when it’s illegal for more than two consenting adults to enter into a relationship committed to family,  love and honour – yet, a spouse of a monogamous relationship can legally step outside their commitment without fear of prosecution.  Sure, some hefty divorce bills might follow, but the cheating monogamous spouse still is afforded rights, such as still having access to their children.  The same isn’t true for plural families who face the prospect of being separated from their spouses and children or being imprisoned simply because their love extended beyond the traditional notion of family.

I think it’s time that polygamy in the Western world was brought out of hiding.  It’s the only way that society will be able to really understand it and provide adequate protections for those who choose to practice it.  By keeping it hidden, society is driving it further underground, where those who prey on the unprotected and marginalized will exploit the lifestyle for their own gain.  Let’s start having an intelligent and informed dialogue about the subject.  One that doesn’t revolve around religious ideology and sensationalized media headlines.

I believe that the foundation for any intimate relationship is based on love, mutual respect and trust.  These should be the measurements of a marriage – regardless of how many spouses you have.

Categories: Society and Culture Tags: , ,

Religion vs. Law – Revisited

March 8th, 2011 No comments

A few weeks ago I blogged about how religion and the law don’t always play so well together.  I meant to provide some follow up comments on this much sooner; however I became sidetracked with work, midterms and my other hobby – painting.  Now that I’ve provided sufficient enough explanation for denying you – my adoring readers – your weekly peck of squawky goodness, I’ll move forward with a promise not to make promises about when I’ll post next.  That being said, I promise to post at some point in the future – always 😉

I have many thoughts on the subject of law and religion.  So many that I think this is going to be an ongoing conversation.  Where I’d like to start is on the subject of polygamy.  There’s been a lot of debate in the last year about whether polygamy should be legal or whether it violates the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman.  This sounds awfully familiar to me.

I appreciate that many religions hold that marriage is a sacrament; however I don’t believe it’s fair to attest that marriage is exclusively a religious institution.  Sure, it may have been that way long ago when society was essentially bound by religious notions; but I’d like to believe that we’ve evolved as a society.  We are no longer bound by a single religious ideology – at least those of us fortunate to live in “free” (more on this later) societies.  Plenty of non-religious people marry.

If anything, marriage has become a government institution.  It allows two people to be intertwined such that they reap financial and legal benefits of being married.  In some countries, two people don’t even have to be legally married to enjoy the same benefits that those who sign the paperwork do.   Merely living together, as a couple, for a prescribed length of time allows for reaping some of the advantages that legal marriage does.  So, if marriage really isn’t a religious institution the idea of any faith holding exclusivity over it falls flat.

Where does this leave polygamy?  Is there anything fundamentally wrong with plural marriage?  There are arguments that women and young girls are exploited, but I fail to see how this is mutually exclusive to plural marriage.  Wouldn’t more protection be afforded to those women and girls who may be being exploited by plural marriage if it were somehow legislated like more traditional marriages?  As it stands now, a woman who is in a plural marriage and not legally married has little in the way of protection should she choose to leave that marriage.  Through making plural marriage a legally accepted practice, I believe we’d be making it more transparent and thus actually protect more people.

Truthfully, this conversation could go on at great length.  I’ll leave it here for now, so you can digest it.  Often those things that are unusual or unfamiliar to us make us uncomfortable.  I think we’ve got to break out of our bubbles and realize that there’s a bigger world that doesn’t necessarily conform to the nice little confines of our bubble.  It’s time to burst out and start seeking out grander truths.

I’ll close with comments from My Dad that sum up rather nicely how I feel about these matters we’ve been discussing:  “Marriage is a man made institution created by religion to support it. I say marry whom ever you want, pray as you choose to. Protect childhood at all cost, stand up for what you feel and try to keep an open mind”. So glad to have a Dad that taught me to burst out from my bubble and experience a grander world.

Categories: Religion Tags: ,

Religion vs. Law

February 19th, 2011 No 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.

Categories: Religion Tags: ,