Religious freedom expert visits TWU and answers top questions for religious freedom in Canada

Langley, British Columbia—Paul Marshall, PhD, is the author of the best-selling, award-winning survey on religious persecution worldwide, titled, Their Blood Cries Out. And on June 7, Marshall took the podium at Trinity Western University as a keynote speaker for the religious freedom conference, “Keeping the Faith: Religious Freedom, Human Dignity and the Public Good.” The conference was co-sponsored by TWU and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Marshall, who has lectured at the U.S. State Department and is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House, in Washington, D.C., took time to answer four top questions for religious freedom in Canada today.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing issue for religious freedom in Canada today?

Marshall: I think a major issue in North America is that people believe religious freedom means that religion should be private. But actually, I don’t know of any religion whose teachings about human life don’t have an effect on what we do in public, in universities, in politics and in everything. And so a major threat to religious freedom is the attempt, often through the courts, to stop Christian communities from living out their beliefs in their own lives if their beliefs contradict the major secular ideology. We see developments of that sort both here and in the United States. Worrying as those are, if we look at what goes on in Canada compared to a world context, this country is still extraordinarily religiously free. There are many countries where people are dying by the thousands in religious persecution.

Q: Have concerns over religious freedom in Canada escalated over the years?

Marshall: I think awareness is increasing. What we still tend to lack is a clear overview of what is happening and why. That’s one reason this conference is so important—to try to gain a better perspective. It’s important to see what consistent patterns are out there in order to effectively defend challenges to religious freedom.

Q: How can Canadians help preserve religious freedom in Canada?

Marshall: We need to be aware of what’s happening, pray about what’s happening, and make sure that all other people in the body of Christ are aware of what’s going on. And then we need to be clear about these things, talk about them and publicize them. Sometimes what tends to happen is that in public discussion we don’t hear clear arguments from Christians. We hear complaints, perhaps, but not clear arguments. And those need to be made. We need to raise them in the public sphere and keep talking about the importance of religious freedom.

Another dimension and a particularly important one is litigation—going to court. Most of the major changes on this score have taken place in the last 20 years since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And they’ve happened through the courts, not the legislatures. People who want to restrict religious groups have a fairly focused strategy of picking cases and litigating them. And in most cases Christian groups are the defendants, where someone else has brought a case against us. We need to bring cases before the court where a principle is at stake and there is real hardship for Christians. Those are the sort of cases that need to come before the court if religious freedom is to be protected, which means that we will need to raise them.

Q: Do you think there will ever be broad consensus that the preservation of religious freedom is good for everyone?

Marshall: I think it may come about. In the short term, a lot of cases are win-lose where someone is going to come out of the court case on the losing side. But I do think it’s possible to convince the public, and some are already convinced, that having freedom of religion and particularly freedom of religious institutions is important. Many charitable organizations have been founded by Christians. And if you undercut these organizations, where people are often willing to work for low pay, they there will be a lot more hungry and homeless people and the government will have to pay bureaucrats to take care of this which is much more expensive. These organizations are very healthy for a society and if you take them away, I do believe that society will wither.

Last Updated: 2007-09-26