Beaman on Is Religious Freedom Impossible in Canada?

Lori G. Beaman (U. of Ottawa) has posted Is Religious Freedom Impossible in Canada? The abstract follows.

The idea of religious freedom is not new in Canadian law or wider public discourse, although it has taken on a life of its own in the post-Charter era (1982 onward) and certainly in the last several years. As the courts wade more fully into the swirling abyss that is religion they find themselves struggling with the issues that preoccupy scholars of religion (and for which they have found no conclusive answer): what is “religion” and how can it be defined in a manner that is inclusive and meaningful? This article takes as its point of departure the provocative and compelling argument made by Winnifred Sullivan in her book, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005), that religious freedom as a legal promise is untenable. In this article I argue that while plausible and convincing in the context of the United States, Sullivan’s thesis may be less applicable in Canada for three key reasons. First, the embeddedness of Roman Catholicism in Canadian social structure has resulted in a textured and nuanced understanding of religion, or, at the very least, a recognition that religion is in some measure a multifaceted notion. Secondly, the recognition of group rights, however defined, means that there is a space created for alternative religious discourses, in part because of the constitutional recognition of multiculturalism. Thirdly, the recent turn by the Supreme Court of Canada to an understanding of the subjectivity of religious freedom strengthens the idea that religion must be conceptualized in relation to the ways in which individuals understand and practice it in their day to day lives.

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