Greg Neiman’s column about gay-straight alliance clubs in the Dec. 9 issue of the Advocate, entitled Reality trumps dogma, is troubling in a number of respects.
He takes issue with Bill 10 because “it would have allowed individual school boards to deny the formation of these student clubs on religious grounds.” Then he notes that the current education minister, Gordon Dirks, is … “an evangelical pastor whose theology says homosexuality is a sin.”
He suggests that the minister should be able to “look past his personal religious convictions, to his wider responsibilities to a diverse society governed by the Canadian Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
When you think about that, you would need to realize that school boards, even school boards that are religiously-based, should be able to do the same.”
Neiman also takes issue with Premier Jim Prentice’s assertion that “rights are never absolute,” and wonders whether he was “thinking about the rights of religious-based school boards that accept a great deal of tax money from a diverse, secular society.”
But taxes are used in other cases to support activities not acceptable to all Canadians.
What about money contributed for health care by millions of “faith-based” Canadians who oppose abortion on demand? Maybe that should be scrutinized, too.
The dominant theme in Neiman’s thinking seems to be that religion must be cast aside when the government prepares legislation dealing with controversial issues.
But now Neiman himself is ignoring reality. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) which supersedes the Bill of Rights (1960) to which Neiman refers, guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, as well as freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression. It also confirms every Canadian’s right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, according to various criteria which include religion. Therefore, when drafting legislation, governments are legally required to take Canadians’ religious beliefs into account.
But what is religion? Most people think of it as the cultic practices of a denomination or organized group, such as a church. But atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism are just as religious, as are any core commitments that people are not willing to compromise. For example, many believe that no one should try to impose his or her values on someone else. Yet, if I am religiously committed to the idea that I can determine my own values without being concerned about their impact on others, there will be a contest between two gods: society and me. My point is that we are all religious in a general sense, and that the real question is not whether we believe, but rather what or whom we believe. And it’s not a question of whether religious beliefs will be applied or not, but which ones.
This applies to government ministers, too. Dirks’s alleged, but unlikely, belief that homosexuality is a sin, and any possible impact of that on the progress of Bill 10 and what it says about gay-straight alliance clubs is no more religiously intolerant than the act of promoting them. Prentice is right when he says that balancing competing rights in legislation “should not be done in haste.” There should be no rush to judgment.
Also, doesn’t Neiman’s attack on religion as an obstacle to these clubs constitute a form of bullying? Let’s see: society is a god. Neiman is a spokesman for this god, and all Canadians had better fall in line with his line of thinking, or they will be criticized and perhaps even deprived of funding for their children’s education, especially if they are members of a specific religious group. In the name of tolerance, those who profoundly disagree with social liberalism are discredited.
As one who has attended meetings of a gay-straight alliance club in Red Deer, I can tell you that although I appreciated the accepting atmosphere, I felt it promoted the homosexual lifestyle among youngsters whose sexual identities had not yet crystallized. If a person disagrees with that for group-religious or personal-religious reasons, (s)he ought not to be criticized for doing so, because that would constitute intolerance as well. It is interesting that simple disapproval of the homosexual lifestyle often triggers accusations of “homophobia.” Phobia means fear, but simple disapproval does not constitute fear, nor is it a hate crime as some are quick to allege. It is simply a function of deeply-held beliefs which are no less valid than anyone else’s.
If we would just all do for others what we want done for ourselves, we wouldn’t need to have gay-straight alliance clubs. In a civilized society, we are all each other’s protectors as well as advocates for human dignity and mutual respect. There is no excuse for scapegoating, persecuting, ridiculing or marginalizing — neither of homosexuals, nor of critics of the gay lifestyle, so let’s all defend our neighbours and make the dogma that “love conquers all” our new reality.
Jacob M. Van Vliet
Red Deer County