Don Hutchinson, B.A., J.D., is the author of Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867-2017) and principal of Ansero, facilitating Christian partnering for religious freedom. A former member of the board of directors for Christian Legal Fellowship and for Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Don spent fifteen years in leadership with The Salvation Army before serving with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as General Legal Counsel, Vice-President and Director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life and then interim CEO of the Canadian Bible Society.
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Don Hutchinson graciously accepted the offer to do a print article interview regarding his book called Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150. We asked him a few questions about how religion has changed throughout 150 years in Canada and what is in store for the future. Here are Don's responses:
1. This year we celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. Why was it important to write a book about our history of religious freedom?
I was preparing to speak at a conference for pastors and their spouses. One of the talks was going to be on religious freedom and the Church in Canada at 150, our sesquicentennial. I awoke about 3:00 one morning in early May 2016 with the thought that the talk should be developed as a book. Because I keep a pen and notepad on the nightstand, I started to write the idea down and ended up writing out the three sections of Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867-2017) and almost all the chapter headings. There are good books on this topic that were written for academics and lawyers. Under Siege is written for the average Christian. My ninety-year-old mother read Under Siege because her son wrote it, but she understood the concepts and we've had some good conversation about them.
2. What has happened with religious freedom over these last 150 years?
The context of history is covered in the first part of Under Siege. Canada is a nation with roots planted firmly in the accommodation of religious differences, largely between the French Roman Catholic Church and English Protestant Churches, even before Confederation. At Confederation, the protection of school systems for minority religions in the four original provinces was part of the negotiation process and ended up in the British North America Act of 1867. As provinces joined Confederation, the constitution was amended to add similar protection in each of the new provinces.
Court challenges by minority religious communities seeking accommodation of their beliefs and practices and the advent of human right codes in the second half of the twentieth century resulted in a body of court decisions that provided clearer definition for religious freedom in the Canadian context. In April 1982, the guarantee of freedom of religion was enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1982 in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The second part of Under Siege explores decisions of the courts on our constitutional freedom of religion under the Charter.
3. What can we learn from the past?
There is much to learn from the past on almost every issue. We set aside an understanding of history to our own detriment. As a nation, it is vital we recognize the process that established the recognition of freedom of religion as fundamental to Canada's free and democratic society. Knowing the history enables us to acknowledge the errors made by past majorities in their efforts to dominate minority communities. The history also enables us to grasp the importance of Canada having and returning to underlying democratic principles of freedom that hold to the necessity for the absence of coercive behavior by the majority as well as accommodation for minorities.
4. You believe that Christians should not allow themselves to be forced to keep their faith private - what does that mean for our participation in Canadian society?
Most Canadian Christians are not aware that our history and recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada under the Charter provide a robust definition of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. We are free to believe, free to worship, free to teach our beliefs to our children. More than those private expressions, we are free to share our religious beliefs openly, including public evangelism. The Court has gone so far as to say that in Canada's free and democratic society, we are free to engage the public conversation on government policies and laws from a religiously informed perspective, on equal footing with those who engage from a non-religiously informed perspective. One of the reasons for writing Under Siege was to get this information into the hands of the average person in the pew in a way that could be both understood and provide guidance about ways to participate in the public square in a respectful, God honoring way.
5. How does that work in a multi-cultural society?
Being a constitutionally multi-cultural society requires religious freedom even if we didn't have the constitutional guarantee of our religious freedom. With the change in immigration policies under Prime Ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau in the 1960s and 1970s Canada transitioned from a predominantly European immigration base to a more international base. The various cultural communities' resident in Canada bring with us our religious expressions as well. Some are more obvious, such as the Sikh community which is both a cultural and religious community. Others are less obvious, such as the large communities of Filipino Roman Catholics or Chinese Protestants. Faith-based participation in a multi-cultural society requires more dialogue - listening and sharing with clarity about our faith - than may have been the experience prior to celebrating our Centennial in 1967.
6. What do you think Canada has done wrong regarding our religious freedom?
If we have done something wrong as a nation in the contemporary culture, it is to accept the false idea that religion is not based in fact and thus is a personal belief or philosophy that is to be kept private. There is much verification for the historic foundations on which Christianity, and other religious communities, are based. To discount those foundations or attempt to re-write history in a way that removes them is simply to replace religious beliefs with belief based in something else. Interestingly, our Supreme Court has acknowledged this in several decisions this century, most significantly and directly in a 2004 case that is explored in Under Siege.
7. What do you think Canada has done right?
Through a variety of mechanisms, particularly the courts, Canadians have consistently managed to arrive at the place of understanding that we are strongest when we cannot just believe but practice our beliefs, and to do so in a way that enables me to share my faith with you and you to share your faith with me. That sharing ends at the point of coercion, efforts to compel the other person to accept what I believe or practice, or to constrain the other person from practicing their faith. Of course, aspects of any practice, religious or not, that are physically harmful to another are justifiably prohibited by Canadian law.
8. What do you think is the most important thing to teach our children about religious freedom?
The children of Canada ought to be able to grow up with the understanding that they can live and share their faith anywhere, and they are not to be belittled for doing so. Correspondingly, that means their friends and others are also able to share different beliefs. Jesus was great at dialogue. His recorded words give evidence that he knew his audience and their concerns. His willingness to let those who did not wish to follow Him leave without cajoling or condemning them is an example for us. As is His invitation to follow. Invitations necessarily require extension and response. The response is with the recipient of the invitation, not the giver.
That may sound a little utopian, but who isn't moved by having a dream that we can live together in harmony even when we disagree.
9. Where would you like to see Canada leading in the future regarding religious freedom?
We, as Canadians, should appropriately facilitate the dialogue that makes it possible to live together in our nation peacefully and in relationship with one another. In the third part of Under Siege I provide thoughts for Bible-based engagement in our free and democratic society. Of course, the other place for us to lead as a nation is in seeking similar religious freedom for those who are being persecuted for their faith in other nations.