In It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies (Harper, 192 pages), Mary Eberstadt documents how faithful Christians throughout the Western world are now living in fear of escalating religious oppression.
Of course, Eberstadt readily acknowledges that persecution of the faithful outside the West is vastly worse. In particular, she cites the agony of Christians in the Middle East and Africa where, “radical Islam has been slaughtering and raping and crucifying and enslaving and driving people from their communities of two thousand years.”
In the West, few Christians have any reason to fear outright martyrdom. Instead, Eberstadt observes: “They apprehend, above all, that their children will suffer in the decades to come: shunned by the wider world, punished in all the better places, and intimidated out of practicing their faith.”
Nowhere is the judicial hounding of Western Christians worse than in Canada. The latest blow to the religious freedom of Canadians came on June 29, when the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a ruling by the Law Society of Upper Canada that denies accreditation to a proposed law school at Trinity Western University on the ground that the university obligates students to adhere to a Community Covenant that forbids “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
In reasons for judgment, the Court unanimously contended that “the public interest in ensuring equal access to the (law) profession” by LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer) students “justified a degree of interference” with the religious freedom of Christians at TWU.
The argument is preposterous. There are 19 faculties of law in Canada that teach the common law and admit LGBTQ students. Yet the Court would have us believe that denying accreditation to an additional common-law school for traditionalist Christians at Trinity Western University is a reasonable means of ensuring the equality rights of LGBTQ students to practise law in Ontario.
Worse, in Trinity Western, the Court held that the ruling of the law society “does not prevent the practice of a religious belief itself; rather it denies a public benefit because of the impact of that religious belief on others – members of the LGBTQ community.” By this reasoning, any Christian institution which upholds the traditional definition of marriage is also no longer entitled to other public benefits such as a charitable tax deduction because of the impact of the sincere beliefs of traditionalist Christians on members of the LGBTQ community.
In the United States, as in Canada, the freedom of traditionalist Christians in the workplace is also under attack. Eberstadt cites the example of a baker in Denver who was told by a court in 2015 that he has no constitutional right to decline on religious principle to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The first similar Canadian case occurred in 2000, when an Ontario human rights tribunal fined a Christian print-shop owner $5,000 for declining on religious principle to print materials for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.
Eberstadt notes that in Britain and the United States, governmental authorities have shut down Catholic adoption agencies for refusing on religious principle to facilitate the adoption of children by same-sex couples. In Toronto, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society is still allowed to provide adoption services exclusively for Catholic parents, but for much longer is open to serious doubt.
What can be done to curtail these attacks by secular ideologues on anyone who upholds the traditional principles of Judeo-Christian morality?
Alas, Eberstadt has little to suggest beyond urging Christians to appeal gently to the better, liberal natures of their secular oppressors. As an example, she suggests that Christians in the United States might point out to “believers in secularist orthodoxy” that they “can either follow the Puritans in Massachusetts, punishing the stray Baptists and Quakers and others who find themselves in their midst, or they can opt for what Thomas Jefferson and other Founders developed as an antidote to Puritan destructiveness; namely, the shared understanding that one’s own liberty isn’t safe until everyone else’s is protected.”
Alas, it is rather unlikely that many secular zealots in government and the judiciary will heed such arguments any time soon. Regardless, traditionalist Christians have a clear duty to go on testifying to the truth, come what may. And in so doing, Eberstadt admonishes that they would do well always to follow the approach advocated by Abraham Lincoln: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”