Entries tagged with “religious freedom”.


You will likely have heard of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (CPS) draft human rights policy, which would (in its current form) restrict physicians’ rights to freedom of conscience and religion. The new policy would require physicians with moral or religious objections to certain procedures (like abortion or euthanasia) to nevertheless facilitate such procedures by referring patients to a doctor willing to conduct such procedures—effectively forcing dissenting physicians to act in ways contrary to conscience, even though these rights are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CPSO is accepting comments from the public on the draft policy until February 20, 2015—which is tomorrow (Friday). I encourage you to make your concerns known by visiting their website here. To that end, I’m posting below the letter I have sent the CPSO. Feel free to draw attention to some of the same issues in your own letters.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan (CPSS) recently published a similar draft policy. I’ll be adapting my letter to the CPSO accordingly, and sending one to them as well. I hope you will too. You can contact the CPSS at communications@sps.sk.ca.


An open letter to the CPSO on their draft human rights policy

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to express my deep concern over the draft human rights policy released by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in late 2014. As it currently stands, the policy would compel physicians to act contrary to their consciences, forcing countless doctors to provide services, or facilitate the provision of services, which they consider wrong for moral or religious reasons.

This is reprehensible.

Not only does such a policy ignore the basic rights of physicians, it also undermines confidence in the medical system at large. By forcing physicians to act in ways they consider immoral and unethical, the CPSO signals to wider Canadian society that it is not concerned about the personal integrity of its members. In fact, it suggests the CPSO considers personal integrity something to be discouraged among physicians.

In Canada, we are privileged to enjoy a number of rights and freedoms. I am pleased to see the CPSO committing itself to upholding these rights by producing a draft human rights policy. I am aghast, however, to see that a document purportedly devoted to respecting these rights nevertheless severely undermines the rights of physicians.

The draft policy correctly notes that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects physicians’ right to freedom of conscience and religion, but it is clear that the policy fails to appreciate the full implications of this right. Physicians ought not be forced to refer patients for treatments that the physicians, for reasons of conscience or religion, find objectionable. To require otherwise is to make the objecting physician a party to the treatment he finds objectionable

It’s all very good to say that physicians have the right to freedom of religion and conscience, but it must be further recognized that these freedoms apply not only to thought but also to action. It is not enough to say “Alright, you may believe such and such. You do not need to perform the act yourself, but you must refer patients to someone who will.” If, for example, a physician is opposed to abortion or assisted suicide for reasons of conscience or religion, forcing them to refer a patient for such a procedure impinges directly on the physician’s freedom. The physician will understand herself morally culpable for the final act, in that she facilitated its being carried out. She will have been forced to act in a way contrary to conscience.

As the Nova Scotia Supreme Court recently reminded us, and as the CPSO’s draft policy itself notes, rights in Canada are not hierarchical. When the rights of one individual come into competition with the rights of another, they are to be balanced. “If there are competing rights the issue is whether there are alternative measures by which both rights can be accommodated,” Justice Jamie Campbell writes in his judgment on TWU vs. NSBS. “That involves a consideration or whether one right has been disproportionately affected or the other disproportionately privileged.”

It seems clear that, if the CPSO adopts its draft policy without significant alteration, then the rights of physicians to freedom of conscience and religion will be disproportionately affected—and thus, that their freedom will be infringed upon. As Justice Campbell explains, “An infringement is made out when the claimant sincerely maintains a belief or practice that has a nexus with religion, and the impugned measure interferes with the claimant’s ability to act in accordance with those beliefs in a way that is more than trivial or insubstantial. Trivial or insubstantial interference is interference that does not threaten the belief or conduct.”

Requiring physicians to facilitate a treatment they consider morally objectionable, perhaps even evil, is neither trivial nor insubstantial. Consequently, the draft policy as it stands infringes upon physicians’ rights.

The CPSO should rewrite its draft policy to more clearly protect the freedoms of physicians, including their right to act in accordance with conscience in choosing not to refer patients for treatments they find morally objectionable.

Sincere good wishes,

Mathew Block
Communications Manager
Lutheran Church–Canada



Last week brought good news for those concerned about religious freedoms in Canada. The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia found in favour of Trinity Western University (TWU), in a case that pitted the Christian institution against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. In his judgment, Justice Jamie Campbell is clear that the law society’s attempts to block graduates of TWU amounts to religious discrimination.

“People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct. That is the case even if the effect of that code is to exclude others or offend others who will not or cannot comply with the code of conduct. Learning in an environment with people who promise to comply with the code is a religious practice and an expression of religious faith. There is nothing illegal or even rogue about that. That is a messy and uncomfortable fact of life in a pluralistic society. Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education is an infringement of religious freedom.”

My article on the story went live at First Things this past Thursday. Read it here: “A Victory for Religious Freedom in Canada: Christian University Wins Case Against Provincial Law Society.” Since writing that, Christianity Today has published a story of their own, in which they kindly reference my piece. And I’m thankful to The Gospel Coalition for linking to my post in the “#Right Now” section of their Current Events page.

I’m glad to see the story getting wider attention outside of Canada. After all, TWU may have won its case against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, but it still faces court battles with the law societies of Ontario and British Columbia. Prayers are needed now as much as ever.


canada-flag-webA little while back, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams made headlines for his comments on the persecution (or lack thereof) of Christians in the West. “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable,” he said. “I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country [the United Kingdom] or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots—perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.”

It’s perhaps best the Most Rev. Williams restricted his comments to the United Kingdom and the United States, because the threat of religious persecution in Canada just got a whole lot more real. The Province of Quebec is planning to pass a law which would ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols, including such things as turbans, crucifixes, hijabs, and kippas. And it’s not just for government representatives: it would apply to all public institutions, including schools and hospitals. That’s right: teachers, doctors, and nurses, among numerous other workers, would all be forbidden from wearing religious symbols on the job. Don’t like it? Find another job.

Read the rest in my article over at First Things.


Update (September 15): The Charter has been officially unveiled. I’ve got more on this story at First Things in a post entitled “Quebec’s Charter: When ‘Values’ Means the Denial of Religious Rights.”