Freedom of Religion


The following text in quotation marks is from the book “What Price Parochiaid?” by Gaston D. Cogdell published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State”, used with permission.

“FREEDOM — RELIGION — two cherished words representing con­cepts which people have been willing to defend with their lives.

“The centre word — “of” — is important too, We could use other prepositions: —”freedom to” or “freedom for”, meaning liberty to take action in some direction; “freedom from” the negative impact of religion. Perhaps “of” includes all three ideas.

“Freedom of religion is “guaran­teed” to all Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution, 1982, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976, the Conference on Security and Co­operation in Europe (Vienna Accord), 1989, as well as other international agreements.”

Let’s explore various state­ments, and then examine the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on the meaning of freedom of religion,


“It is tyrannical for public funds—tax funds paid under com­pulsion by all people—to be used, directly or indirectly, for schools which are operated by any religious denomination for the primary purpose of instilling the dogma of its church and inducing obedience to its own authority,

“State funding of religious schools not only violates the religious freedom of all of its citizens, but also the religion itself of many citizens.”


The worship of God is the most intrinsically personal aspect of life — of being, It is beyond words. It cannot be Coerced — must be kept inviolate. If religion is organized at all, it involves a voluntary action on the part of a person to invest his/her life within a supportive group which has a common faith.

Each religious group believes that its revelation of God is valid, and believes that its concept of validity gives it a mandate to propagate its faith to others, The group may also believe that it has the ‘one true faith’ and that world supremacy is its mandate,


“The government’s extraction of compulsory contributions through taxation forces one to render an act of worship in violation of both the right of freedom to worship and freedom of conscience.”


“There is no more sacred or basic human freedom than freedom from the compulsory support of any religious sect or denomination,”

“When these absolutely fund­amental rights and freedoms are abrogated, all society and every citizen within it, is degraded.”


“Separation of church and state means that the churches shall be non-political and the state non-sectarian. There shall be no fusion of, or collaboration between, the political and ecclesiastical authorities, institu­tions or functionaries.

“It means that the power of man over his fellow man, of organized society over the individual, of organized religion over society, of society over organized religion, is drastically restricted.

“The state operates and seeks to attain objectives solely in the realm of the physical, the legislative, the natural, the temporal, The church operates in, and its ultimate objectives are in the realm of the spiritual, the moral, the supernatural, the eternal.

“The means used by the state for the attainment of its ends is law—i.e., coercion.

“The means, and the only legitimate means, used by the church for the attainment of its ends are persuasion and indoc­trination —i.e., education.

“When the coercive power—the legal apparatus and tax-collecting machinery of the state—is used on behalf of, and in effect is joined with, the indoctrinational activities —the educational apparatus of the church— a de facto union of the essential organs of each is achieved,

“No church has the right to accept coerced support for any of its activities, EVEN FROM ITS OWN MEMBERS.”

(Does this apply to the rights of grade eight students in the Separate system? Bill 30 says that the Separate system “may offer” education but It does not permit harassment and coercion.)


Throughout European history, the religious tyranny of state-funded church institutions has created a hatred of religion because of its politicization by the state. State funded religion and education existed in Europe’s Communist countries before Communism took over. Italy is one of the most significant examples. Italy, now heavily Communist, has no state church; despite the presence of the Vatican in Rome. The people have denounced its power in the Italian government. (note that this writing is out of date.)

The essence of the Protestant movement (which began some 350 years ago), with its emphasis upon individual liberty, upon salvation by faith, is synthesized in the doctrine of complete separation of all civil authority, coercion and law, from the realm of religion.

In this realm, the state has but one function –the maintenance of freedom of religion for all individuals and all groups within society,

“When the state becomes the agency for the destruction of religious freedom, through the levying of taxes upon citizens of all faiths for the schools of one faith, the state then becomes the agency for the destruction of the public schools through diverting public funds which rightfully belong to public education.”

“Such a government inevitably forfeits its legitimacy in the eyes of many of its citizens.”

“Thus, the use of tax funds for sectarian activities subverts both the church and the state and finally dissolves the very bonds that hold society together.”


Freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed to us as a “fundamental” (serving as a base or foundation) freedom, It is also called the “first freedom” because it was the first of the now-recognized freedoms to come into existence,

In Canada, before the passage of the Canadian Bill of Rights in1960, freedom of religion was generally based on common law principles, During this period, the courts avoided spelling out exactly what religious freedom meant,

In regard to religion, in 1960, the Canadian Bill of Rights stated that “… there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of , , , religion, , , the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely, , , (c) freedom of religion,”

This Bill, like the Canadian Human Rights Act which followed it, was limited in scope, and only protected citizens “in dealings with the federal government and with federally-regulated companies like banks, the railways and the airlines,”


In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched into the Constitution and enshrined certain fundamental freedoms,

The preamble states that “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God”. This shows that the Charter does not recognize any particular denomination, and, noticeable by its absence, it does not refer to a Christian God.

In regard to religion it says:

“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;”

Unlike the Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Charter, as part of the “supreme law” of our land, applies to any laws, be they enacted by federal or provincial governments. Laws found to be in conflict with the Charter are not legally binding. (A recent ruling on the school prayer law is an example found to be in violation of the freedom of religion provision.)

The legislatures make the laws, but the courts interpret them, One would think that a law guaranteeing a “fundamental” right could not be superseded by any other law, but in practice many surprising things happen.


The first case on freedom of conscience and religion to come before the Supreme Court of Canada was that of the “Big M Drug Mart Ltd.” It defined freedom of religion for Canada and it has served as a reference for the lower courts.

(Quotations used in the following paragraphs come from the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Big M Drug Mart case.)


“Big M Drug Mart Ltd. was charged with unlawfully carrying on the sale of goods on Sunday, May 30, 1982 in the City of Calgary, Alberta, contrary to the Lord’s Day Act, R.S.C. 1970, cl 13.

“Big M has challenged the con­stitutionality of the Lord’s Day Act, both in terms of the division of powers and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Such challenge places in issue before this Court, for the first time, one of the fundamental freedoms protected by the Charter, the guarantee of ‘freedom of conscience and religion1 entrenched in section 2.”


As this case proceeded through various levels of the courts, Big M was first acquitted by the provincial court; an appeal by the Attorney General of Alberta was dismissed by the Alberta Court of Appeal in a 3-2 decision, A final appeal made by Alberta before the Supreme Court of Canada was also dismissed, Freedom of religion was upheld; the Lord’s Day Act was struck down.

In one of the appeals reference was made to:

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and to

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It was then stated: “Thus it can be seen that the Canadian Charter was not conceived and born in isolation. It is part of the uni­versal human rights movement.

“It guarantees that the pow­er of government in Canada shall not be used to abridge or abrogate the fundamental rights to which every Canadian, as well as every other human being in the world, is entitled by birth.”

OUR COMMENT: It has been stated that nothing shall stand between an individual and one’s fundamental right to freedom of religion, but, in the provision of funds to Roman Catholic Separate Schools, Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, has been used to prevent all non-Catholics from’ having “freedom of religion”,


(From the written judgment of Justice Brian Dickson)

“A truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct A free society is one which aims at equality with respect to the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms. Freedom must surely be founded in respect for the inviolable rights of the human person.

“The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.

“But the concept means more than that. Freedom can primarily be characterized by the absence of coercion or restraint.

“If a person is compelled by the state or the will of another to a course of action or inaction which he would not otherwise have chosen, he is not acting of his own volition and he cannot be said to be truly free.

“One of the major purposes of the Charter is to protect, within reason, from compulsion or restraint.”


“Coercion includes not only such blatant forms of compulsion as direct commands to act or refrain from acting on pain of sanction, Coercion includes indirect forms of control which determine or limit alter­ative courses of conduct avail­able to others.

“Freedom in a broad sense embraces both the absence of coercion and constraint, and the right to manifest beliefs and practices. Freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one is to be forced! to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.

“What may appear good and true to a majoritarian religious group, or to the state at their behest, may not, for religious reasons, be imposed upon citizens who take a contrary view. The Charter safeguards religious minorities from the threat of “the tyranny of the majority”,


Justice Laycraft added:

“Whatever is comprehended by the terms, (freedom of conscience and religion) however, at the very least they mean that henceforth in Canada government shall not choose sides in sectarian controversy. Sect­arian observance shall neither be enforced or forbidden whether by economic sanction or the more subtle (but even more deva­stating) means of imposing the moral power of the state on one side or on the other.”


“As they are relevant to the Charter, the origins of the demand for such freedom are to be found in the religious struggles in post-reformation Europe. . . large numbers of people –sometimes even the majority in a given territory—found themselves living under rulers who professed faiths different from, and often hostile to, their own and subject to laws aimed at enforcing conformity to religious beliefs and practices they did not share.”

“. . . Many, even among those who shared the basic beliefs of the ascendant religion, came to voice opposition to the use of the State’s coercive power to secure obedience to religious precepts and to extirpate (root out) non-conforming beliefs. The basis of this opposition was . . . the perception that belief itself was not amenable to compulsion.

“It should also be noted, however, that an emphasis on individual conscience and individual judgment also lies at the heart of our democratic political tradition. The ability of each citizen to make free and informed decisions is the absolute prerequisite for the legitimacy, acceptability, and efficacy of our system of self-government.”


“The values that underlie our political and philosophic traditions demand that every individual be free to hold and to manifest whatever beliefs and opinions his or her conscience dictates, provided that. . , (they) do not injure his or her neighbours or their parallel rights. Equally protected, and for the same reasons, are expressions and manifestations of religious non-belief.

“It may perhaps be that freedom of conscience and religion extends beyond these principles to prohibit other sorts of governmental involvement in matters having to do with religion.

“It must at the very least mean this: government may not coerce individuals to affirm a specific religious belief or to manifest a specific religious practice for a sectarian purpose.”


In determining whether the Lord’s Day Act involved a compulsion to perform a religious act, the Court made noteworthy comments:

“In my view, the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion prevents the government from compelling individuals to perform or abstain from performing otherwise harmless acts because of the religious significance of those acts to others.

“In my view, . . . the diverse socio-cultural backgrounds of Canadians make it constitutionally incompetent for the federal Parliament to provide legislative preference for any one religion at the expense of those of another religious persuasion.

“At an earlier time. . . the enforcement of religious conformity may have been a legitimate object of government, but since the Charter, it is no longer legitimate.

With the Charter, it has become the right of every Canadian to work out for himself or herself what his or her religious obliga­tions, if any, should be and it is not for the state to dictate otherwise.”

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