Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, have criticized a new Canadian government policy that bars funding for organizations which actively seek to undermine LGBT equality and abortion rights.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto joined interfaith leaders at a press conference earlier this week to voice their objections to the new policy which allows the government to deny funding for the Canada Summer Jobs program to organizations whose “core mandate” is opposed to LGBT equality and abortion rights.
The Globe and Mail explained that “core mandate” relates, in the government’s terms, to the “primary activities” of an organization. Collins, who claimed that some 150 summer jobs in his archdiocese would be affected by the new policy, said, according to The Pilot:
“‘Many organizations will be deemed ineligible because they are unable to or unwilling to attest that their core mandate and beliefs align with the current government’s self-identified values. These groups, though their views and actions are accepted by law and by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being denied access to a government benefit solely because of their religious beliefs or conscientious objection.'”
Some 90 religious organizations are also protesting the policy, which Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said only seeks to ensure the organizations do not “ask students to conduct activities that undermine basic Canadian rights.” She said there had been a history of problematic groups, and after unsuccessful efforts to screen them out, an affirmation from all groups became necessary.
But Cardinal Collins rejected this explanation, saying that if the government is concerned about a specific group, it should engage that group on an individual basis. He called the policy “a kind of wide-open ideological test for everybody,” which “we cannot in conscience sign.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said it remained “seriously concerned that the beliefs and practices of Catholics and other faith traditions will exclude them from receiving funding.”
In a response to the CCCB statement, the government clarified a distinction between an organization’s activities and its beliefs. Funding would only be denied based on the activities related to the job being funded. The Pilot shared an LGBT-related example given by the government:
“[A] summer camp that ‘does not welcome LGBTQ2 young people’ would not be eligible to apply for funding to hire students as camp counselors, while ‘a faith-based organization that embraces a traditional definition of marriage’ could hire students for the primary purpose of assisting the elderly ‘regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,’ according to other examples.”
But CCCB remained dissatisfied with the government’s response, saying:
“‘The attestation and examples still amount to the government’s coercion on matters of conscience and religious belief. They foreclose the possibility of wide ranging views and even healthy disagreement.'”
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast opined about the policy in the Ottawa Sun, writing, “Apparently, Canadians have the freedom to hold only the beliefs and opinions approved by the current government. Who is defending our charter rights and freedoms in this situation?” The Archdiocese of Ottawa has advised Catholic applicants not to sign the attestation, but to submit an alternative one composed by the archdiocese.
Religious liberty cases such as funding for the Canada Summer Jobs program are a delicate balance in pluralistic societies, as different interests try to navigate competing claims. But in this situation, the Catholic bishops’ and other religious leaders’ claims are injecting hyperbole where moderation is needed.
Based on the information available, it seems Prime Minister Trudeau’s government has proceeded correctly in distinguishing between funding organizations which actively seek to undermine LGBT equality and funding organizations who do not believe in LGBT equality, but are primarily dedicated to a worthwhile charitable cause. It is unfortunate that Canada’s bishops would undermine the Church’s good works because of their ideological stance against LGBT rights.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 27, 2018
The Catholic Register, “More than 80 religious leaders ask government to drop attestation for summer job funding“