By Steven Howard
On Thursday, November 7, Program Director William Saunders hosted a conversation between the MA in human rights students and Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, Director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, a nonpartisan, faith-based think-tank that educates Canadians about the importance of religious freedom to a deeply pluralistic society. Director Saunders, Joseph Enzler, Emily Hausheer, and myself received Father Deacon Bennett for a meeting on campus. To begin with, Father Deacon Bennett shared about his professional and personal journey, which took him to places such as McGill University in Montreal, to service as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and ordination to the deaconate in the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church.
The conversation then shifted to the decline of Catholicism in Quebec, the rise of French-style laïcité in the province, and how that is used to discriminate against Catholics as well as Muslims. ‘What was interesting to note is that most of the legislation against Muslim women wearing headscarves is supported by an odd coalition of anti-Catholic activists on the left who live in Montreal and the province’s more conservative rural population who are more hostile towards immigrants. He also shared how the province has no conscious objections for medical professionals and how many Catholics will have to close shop unless Canada’s judicial system hears their case and rules to protect a right to conscientious objection. This is vital because the province has been forcing Catholic healthcare professionals to carry out procedures and treatments considered intrinsically evil or sinful in Catholicism.
What impacted me was how much the U.S. and Canada share in common when it comes to religious freedom issues. There is definitely a need in wider North American culture to reinforce the importance of religious pluralism and religious liberty for all.