Canadian leaders are creating “second-class citizens” by chipping away at religious freedom, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine said recently.
Lépine spoke with Crux about two recent moves by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government that restrict religious freedom. One involves the Canadian Summer Jobs program, which provides grants for summer jobs for students. Last year, the Trudeau administration decided to force groups to say they support abortion if they want to receive the grants.
Such requirements treat pro-life Christians and other religious people as “second-class citizens,” Lépine said.
“It is a sign of diminishing freedom of religion and conscience,” he said. “Some might say it’s not very much, but Pope Francis talks about ‘polite persecution,’ and it could possibly lead to that.
“I don’t think that is the intention of the law, but if neutrality of the state is used to exclude the public manifestation of certain religious beliefs, somehow, you are moving in the direction of creating second-class citizens,” Lépine continued.
Another concern is Bill 62, which requires that people show their faces if they want to receive public services. While the legislation primarily affects Muslims who wear niqabs or burkas, Lépine said people of all religions should be concerned.
By chipping away at religious freedom for some, the government is putting religious freedom for all in danger, he said. Rather than equally respect every person’s beliefs, the government is saying that some beliefs are more worthy of respect than others, he continued.
“In the example of the Summer Jobs Program, I would call it a form of exclusion. It says: ‘You are a part of society, but there are certain aspects of who you are that you should keep private, and we don’t want them to be part of society.’ Our Charter of Rights was not made for that; it was made to prevent us from creating second-class citizens,” Lépine said.
He said the Canadian Charter of Rights was modeled after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which affirmed the “inherent dignity of every human person.”
“It wasn’t about using the Declaration to create a belief system to judge other belief systems or to diminish them,” he told Crux. “It’s about creating a society which includes different belief systems and respects them. It’s not about imposing your belief system on others.”
The new Canadian Summer Jobs application has caused a massive outcry across the country. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders joined together recently to protest the oppressive new requirement. The Canadian Press reports Sikh and Hindu leaders also have raised concerns.
Many churches and other groups provide students with summer jobs through the grant program. However, the new 2018 grant application requires groups to say that they respect “reproductive rights,” including abortion on demand, as one of their “core” values. Groups cannot submit the online application unless they do, the National Post reports.
Hundreds of groups that used to employ students have said they cannot comply with the government’s ideological demands.
Despite the backlash, Trudeau and his administration refused to back down on their pro-abortion ideological push.
The pro-abortion administration attempted to assuage the public in late January by claiming groups only must “respect” abortion on demand if they want to receive the grants, according to The Canadian Press.
However, these explanations have not satisfied many religious groups, which employ students to help run summer camps, refugee service organizations and charities to help low-income families and minorities. Some reports warned that summer camps and other charities could be forced to close.