Religion, multiculturalism and the public square: Shachi Kurl, Angus Reid

See the article for the charts:

The inclusion of “God” in the preamble to Canada’s 1982 Constitution Act was a last-minute addition by Pierre Trudeau.

Thirty-three years later, as his son Justin presided over the swearing in of a new Liberal cabinet, over half of its members chose to drop the words “so help me God” from their oath of office. In a little more than a generation, the religious beliefs that were once the central tenets of Canadian society have been swept aside, as the courts and Parliament moved to assert a person’s individual liberty over their body, their identity and their relationships, from birth to death. And Canadian public opinion — sometimes leading, at other times following — has marched largely kept pace with this transformation.

The era when churches and religious leaders held sway over public policy in Canada has come to an end. There are important pockets of religious opposition to abortion, assisted dying and gender neutralization, but in the final analysis secularism seems to have won the day.

Religion and religious influence declined in Canada after the Second World War. (In Quebec during the 1960s the process accelerated, and the province moved from being the most to the least churched society in the modern world.) In the 1980s, not long after Pierre Trudeau wrote the word “God” into the constitutional preamble, regular church attendance in Canada was at around 40 percent. When Justin Trudeau formed his first cabinet in 2015, regular attendance had decreased to around half that….

With this decline in influence, the era of religious dominance in the public square has come to an end. But this is not the end of the story. The role of religion in setting public policy has been replaced by a new issue: religion itself as a topic for public policy.

The highest-profile example is the controversy over the clothing worn by some Muslim women. In Quebec — once more at the centre of a religion-versus-state tangle — Bill 62 would require citizens to show their faces when receiving public services. Squarely aimed at niqabs and burkas, this legislation is wildly popular in Quebec but less so in the rest of Canada, where such moves have failed to garner majority support…

The niqab/burka issue is part of a larger drama playing out in Canada concerning rising levels of religious diversity, how Canada should adapt to this multifaith reality and the importance Canadians place on religious freedom guarantees enshrined in the Constitution.

The current debate over religious freedom isn’t limited to the Muslim religion. Indeed, major issues of religious freedom that have recently been before the courts involve Christian organizations attempting to assert their rights: for example, in British Columbia, Trinity Western University’s policies that impose moral standards on their students; in Ontario, the fight with the College of Physicians and Surgeons over exempting health care workers from activities related to abortion or assisted dying; and in Quebec, Loyola College’s demand to be able to set its own religious instruction curriculum, independent of the one established by provincial education authorities.

Beyond the legal aspects, the fate of religion in Canada ultimately depends on public attitudes. On this, the results of surveys by the Angus Reid Institute in 2017 reveal there is cause for concern among religious communities and faith groups. The most startling finding is the relatively tepid support for the very concept of religious freedom. Asked whether the inclusion of religious freedom in the Constitution makes Canada a better or worse country, only slightly more than half (55 percent) of 1,500 respondents in an October 2017 poll said “better.” A sizable minority — roughly 1 in 7 — said “worse”….

These findings, which reflect deep division in Canada over the country’s increasing religious diversity, follow decades of immigration from non-Christian countries. Canada may prize its multiculturalism, but when it comes to the religious roots of this diversity, Canadians are divided.

When asked if religious diversity in Canada is good or bad, 26 percent said “good” and 23 percent “bad,” and the rest were unsure or felt the impact is “mixed.” (Not surprisingly, Quebec is the outlier on this question, with those who said “bad” outnumbering those who said “good” by nearly 2 to 1.) This finding is supported by another from our polling, which asks Canadians if they think the country does too much to accommodate different religious and faith groups… Here we find opinions massively on the side of doing too much (53 percent think the country does too much to accommodate religion, only 9 percent say it doesn’t do enough, and the rest think it strikes the right balance).

The lack of deep support for religious freedom and religious diversity suggests that faith communities could come under increased scrutiny in the future, especially if political leaders sense an advantage in limiting the special status enjoyed by these organizations in taxation, education and health care.

On taxation, recent polling shows Canadians divided — 55 percent in favour and 45 percent against — on special tax status for religious organizations; in Quebec, the percentages are reversed…. The same pattern is evident on opinions about religious schools and about regulations that would curtail the right of faith-affiliated hospitals to opt out of assisted dying.

Starting with the election of Stephen Harper, and continuing into Justin Trudeau’s government, there has been an increasingly politicized debate over religion. Although Harper appointed a special ambassador for religious freedom, he also voted against a motion proposed by members of his own caucus to set up a parliamentary committee to study when life begins. Trudeau, in contrast, did not hesitate to ban pro-life candidates from running for the Liberal Party. When the Governor General he appointed used her maiden speech to disparage those who believe in “divine intervention,” he was quick to jump to her defence.

It’s still early days in this political chapter, where leaders are seeking to change public expression and institutional arrangements associated with religious belief. Ironically, the diversity that is at the heart of this emerging debate may impose the greatest limits on those who would seek to limit religious expression: Canadian immigration policies favour vibrant Islamic, Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities.

The late Richard Neuhaus, one of the 20th century’s great activists and thought leaders on matters of religion and the public square, was born a few miles down the Ottawa River from Canada’s parliament. He understood better than most that politics is a function of culture, and culture is ultimately a function of religion. Canada, which so proudly celebrates its multiculturalism, is witnessing a growing debate over religious diversity that eventually will have far-reaching political consequences. How the debate evolves depends on whether the different religions and traditions can cooperate and have sufficient impact in the political sphere to withstand the forces of secularism that are driving large elements of public policy in Canada.

via Religion, multiculturalism and the public square

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A quarter of Canadians think religious diversity is a bad thing

Not much new here:

Canadians are divided over whether religious diversity is healthy for the country, but they consider Islam in particular to be a negative force, a new poll has found.

In the survey, conducted the same week Quebec adopted a law prohibiting niqab-wearing women from receiving government services, 26 per cent of respondents said increasing religious diversity is a good thing while 23 per cent said it is bad. Nearly half — 44 per cent — said diversity brings a mix of good and bad; the remaining seven per cent were unsure.

When the pollsters sought respondents’ views on particular religious groups, anti-Islam sentiment stood out. Forty-six per cent of the people polled said Islam is damaging Canada compared with 13 per cent who said it is beneficial. The others either did not know (20 per cent) or said it has no real impact (21 per cent.)

The Angus Reid Institute, which conducted the poll in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, said the results are in keeping with “a well documented pattern” in recent years. “Namely, if Islam is involved, a significant segment of Canadians will react negatively,” the institute said in its analysis of the numbers.

The only other religion with an overall negative score was Sikhism, with 22 per cent calling it damaging and 13 per cent beneficial. Catholicism, Protestantism, evangelical Christianity and Judaism all had overall positive ratings.

Angus Reid, the founder and president of the institute, said he found it disheartening that Canadians are not more committed to the freedom of religion enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A slight majority — 55 per cent — of respondents said freedom of religion makes Canada a better country, while 14 per cent said the freedom makes Canada worse and 21 per cent it has no impact.

“I think the low number of Canadians who celebrate the fact that we have religious freedom is very troubling and really speaks to the forces of secularization that are at work in Canadian society,” Reid said in an interview.

He sees in the results a “potential for intolerance” toward the faithful, especially adherents of minority religions. Asked whether various groups’ influence was growing or shrinking in Canada, respondents identified Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism as growing. Canada’s more established religious groups were all seen to have a shrinking influence.

The poll is part of Faith in Canada 150, a multi-faith initiative of the think tank Cardus to highlight the role religion has played historically and continues to play in Canada.

I don’t think the people answering this poll are answering from the consequence of day-to-day experience. I think what we’re talking about is a public narrative

Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Cardus, noted that roughly three per cent of Canadians are Muslim and less than two per cent are Sikh, so the chances of a poll respondent having a Muslim or Sikh neighbor are slim.

“I don’t think the people answering this poll are answering from the consequence of day-to-day experience. I think what we’re talking about is a public narrative,” he said.

He said it is telling that the two groups seen negatively are also those with visible religious symbols such as the hijab and turban. “Is it a discomfort with the particulars of their faith? Or is it a discomfort with the fact that they’re different than us?”

The poll asked about cases where religious practice intersects with the public sphere. There was solid opposition to the niqab — a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire face except the eyes. Forty-nine per cent of respondents said a woman in a niqab should be prohibited from visiting a government office and 29 per cent said she should be discouraged but tolerated. Twenty-two per cent said the woman should be welcomed.

There was greater tolerance for the idea of opening a council meeting with a non-denominational prayer to God — just 25 per cent said the practice should be prohibited. Opinion was divided on whether organized religions should continue to receive special tax consideration, with 55 per cent saying yes and 45 per cent saying no.

The same split — 55 per cent yes and 45 per cent no — emerged on the question of whether a religiously affiliated nursing home should be able to refuse the practice of physician-assisted death.

via A quarter of Canadians think religious diversity is a bad thing | National Post

Altruism vs. self-fulfillment: Faithful in Canada are more caring, but compassion has its limits, poll finds | Angus Reid / Cardus poll

Interesting survey in the secondary questions on attitudes and beliefs:

The larger the role faith plays in the lives of Canadians, the more likely they are to say they value altruism over self-fulfillment, a new poll has found.

Religion and politics, it is often said, don’t mix. Just because it’s said doesn’t mean it’s true — and in Canada, it’s not true.

Freshly released poll numbers collected by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) and Faith in Canada 150, in collaboration with think tank Cardus, suggest faith and religious belief do indeed play a hefty role in our views on politics and the world.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, is part of a year-long project gauging Canadians’ beliefs and religious practices. It grouped respondents into four categories ranging from non-believers to religiously committed who attend places of worship regularly.

“Caring for others versus personal fulfillment, those are two very different value constructs,” Angus Reid, the institute’s founder and chairman, said in an interview. “And the relationship between them and religiosity is really significant.”

Asked to choose between two approaches as “the best way to live life,” 53 per cent of respondents picked “achieving our own dreams and happiness” over “being concerned about helping others.”

But when the results were broken down along the spectrum of religiosity, 67 per cent of the religiously committed favoured helping others. For non-believers, 65 per cent chose the pursuit of happiness.

 

The question revealed significant differences across Canadian regions. Quebec had the highest proportion of respondents across the country opting for self-fulfillment, at 65 per cent. Alberta was second at 54 per cent and British Columbia next at 53 per cent. In all other parts of the country, a majority of respondents picked helping others, with Saskatchewan the most altruistic at 59 per cent.

“What this survey proves is that having a faith, being part of a faith community, seems to propel people in the direction of developing higher levels of compassion or caring,” Reid said.

 

But that compassion has its limits. The 2,006 Canadian adults surveyed were asked a series of moral questions. The responses showed that the two groups on the religious end of the spectrum – the religiously committed and privately faithful – were together the most likely to say:

  • Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees;
  • They would be uncomfortable if a child planned to marry someone from a different cultural or religious background;
  • There should not be greater social acceptance of people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer);
  • Preserving life is more important than people’s freedom to choose on issues like abortion and doctor-assisted death.

In another question, the poll asked which statement corresponded most closely to respondents’ personal views:

  • People are fundamentally sinners and in need of salvation; or
  • People are essentially good and sin has been invented to control people.

Two-thirds of those polled sided with the essential goodness of people. But among the religiously committed – who made up about one-fifth of the survey group – 73 per cent said people are fundamentally sinners.

 

Another set of questions sought to gauge positions on moral relativism – whether the concept of right and wrong is absolute or can change depending on the situation. A large majority, 68 per cent, said what is right or wrong “depends on the circumstances.” But nearly the same proportion, 66 per cent, rejected the notion that “answers to moral questions will be different for different cultures.” At 74 per cent, the religiously committed were the most likely to say universal rights and wrongs apply to the whole human race.

Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Christian think tank Cardus, welcomed the poll’s finding that a majority of Canadians say their faith is important to their personal identity (54 per cent) and their day-to-day lives (55 per cent.)

 

“On the one hand, in contrast to the prevalent public narrative that religion is private and it doesn’t matter, it’s quite clear that for the vast majority of Canadians, it does.  Over half say, ‘Religion is actually shaping my identity and my decisions,’ ” Pennings said.

“On the other hand, that engagement is a relatively thin engagement.”

Source: Altruism vs. self-fulfillment: Faithful in Canada are more caring, but compassion has its limits, poll finds | National Post

Canadians may be vacating the pews but they are keeping the faith: poll

Interesting poll that gives some sense of “religiosity,” in terms of beliefs, compared to general religious affiliation:

Beneath Canadians’ widespread abandonment of places of worship and their negative view of even the word “religion,” a new poll has found a solid core of faith that continues to shape the country.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, grouped respondents into four categories according to their answers on a range of questions gauging their beliefs and religious practices.

“We have a society that has a secular government and there is a general assumption of faith being very private,” said Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of think tank Cardus. “On the other hand, when you actually take a look at everyday society, the majority of people are people of faith to one degree or another, and faith informs and influences many of the ways we deal with each other on a day-to-day basis.”

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

The poll classifies 21 per cent of Canadians as religiously committed, meaning they hold a strong belief in God or a higher power and regularly attend religious services. At the other end of the spectrum, 19 per cent of Canadians are pure non-believers.

It is the swath in between, equally divided between what the pollster terms “privately faithful” and “spiritually uncertain,” that offers the greatest insight into Canadians’ evolving beliefs and practices.

The privately faithful, 30 per cent of respondents, “are people who actually believe in God, believe in heaven, believe in an afterlife,” said Angus Reid, the institute’s founder and chairman. “They have largely not been involved in organized religion. They will go to funerals and weddings and that sort of thing, but their faith is largely a private matter, and it’s really driven by their prayer. They pray on a regular basis.”

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

The spiritually uncertain, also representing 30 per cent, “seem to be a bit confused about where they want to be,” Reid said. “On some issues they kind of side with the non-believers, but they haven’t given up totally on everything.

“They continue to believe that there’s a God, but they’re uncertain about the role of God.”

The poll is part of a multi-faith effort initiated by Cardus called Faith in Canada 150, which aims to highlight the role religion has played historically and continues to play in Canada. The initiative, which has a budget of roughly $1-million, was denied federal funding as part of official 150th anniversary celebrations.

Source: Canadians may be vacating the pews but they are keeping the faith: poll | National Post

And the accompanying op-ed by Ray Pennings of Cardus:

Despite this religious openness, the same polling indicates a significant disconnect between the perception and reality of faith’s role in today’s Canada.

Simply put, religion has an image problem in Canada. In fact, the word “religion” is more likely to be seen negatively than positively, according to this new poll. Moreover, just over half of Canadians say they disagree with the claim that religion’s overall impact on the world is positive.

About half of Canadians polled say they’re uncomfortable around those who are religiously devout. Throw in terms like born-again, theology and evangelism, and just 15 per cent of respondents associate those words with a positive meaning.

But how well do Canadians actually understand the role faith plays in everyday life? Asked what’s most important in life, the 21 per cent of Canadians who are religiously committed are most likely to prioritize family life, honesty and concern for others.

Conversely, concern for others was a lower priority for non-believers. Instead, they are more likely to select a comfortable life, self-reliance and good times with friends as important. Not to put too fine a point on it, but those who are most likely to pray to God, attend religious services regularly and read the Bible or another sacred text seem most oriented toward others and their welfare.

What about Canadians’ emotional lives? The religiously committed are the happiest amongst us. Fully 47 per cent of them say they’re very happy or extremely happy overall, compared with 35 per cent of non-believers. They also report the highest levels of happiness among friends and in their communities. None of that is terribly surprising. If anything, it simply confirms what other research has shown. It makes sense, then, that the religiously committed are also more likely to be “very optimistic” about the future.

When it comes to community engagement and charitable giving, once again it’s the religiously committed who report the strongest involvement. Slightly more than half of non-believers say they are uninvolved in community groups or activities. That percentage drops to 17 per cent of the religiously committed. In fact, 41 per cent of the religiously committed have at least some involvement in their community, with another 42 per cent reporting heavy involvement.

Almost a third of the religiously committed say they regularly volunteer compared with 13 per cent of non-believers. Dare we ask about charitable giving?  Only 12 per cent of non-believers say they try to donate to whatever charities they can. That jumps to 43 per cent among the religiously committed. These are not selfish people.

The numbers present a clear picture: Religiously committed Canadians tend to be the most concerned about others, the happiest and most generous. So, why do Canadians have a negative view of religion? Arguably, the story of faith in Canada is not being well told. The narrative around faith is often negative. Religion is frequently presented as something that divides rather than unites people within communities.

That is part of the reason why Faith in Canada 150 exists, to showcase the role of faith in making Canada the country that it is. That legacy is a story worth telling.

Source: It is time to change the narrative around religion in Canada

 

Religious freedom envoy joins think tank ahead of Liberals’ decision on office – iPolitics

Suggests that the decision to fold the religious freedom office back into the human rights division has been taken:

Religious freedoms ambassador Andrew Bennett has joined conservative think tank Cardus amid uncertainty over the future of his office under the Liberal government.

The Canadian Press has learned that Bennett has become a senior fellow at Cardus and chair of the group’s Faith in Canada 150 program, effective immediately, while he serves out the balance of his term as ambassador.

“I look forward very much to working with Cardus, the think tank best placed in my view to reaffirm the essential and foundational role of faith in our common life as Canadians,” Bennett said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

The Tories set up the Office of Religious Freedom in 2013, and appointed Bennett, a former public servant and Christian theologian, as its first ambassador.

Source: Religious freedom envoy joins think tank ahead of Liberals’ decision on office – iPolitics