About the Issue
The freedom to believe and practice as we choose is closely related to core values of liberty and autonomy. Protection for this basic freedom is set out in s. 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that everyone has freedom of conscience and religion.
Religious freedom in Canada means that there are no state-sponsored religions and that the government cannot prefer some religious beliefs or groups over others. Similarly, religious belief cannot be preferred to non-belief. CCLA strives to ensure that any restrictions on freedom of religion are necessary and minimally intrusive and that our public institutions treat all individuals equally, regardless of religious affiliation.
Why This Matters
Regardless of what you believe or practice, and whether you subscribe to a particular set of religious beliefs or don’t, protecting freedom of religion is an important part of ensuring that all people are treated with equal dignity and respect. Freedom of religion helps to ensure that religious minorities are not the subject of discrimination and also protects the rights of those whose beliefs may lie with the majority. , Freedom of religion is also crucial to maintaining a private sphere for individuals and communities where the government does not—and cannot—intrude. The state should be neutral and impartial when it comes to matters of deeply-held personal beliefs.s.
CCLA has been involved as an intervener in the most significant freedom of religion cases in the country, addressing issues as diverse as prayer and religious education in schools, accommodation for religious minorities, and interactions between religious and civil law. CCLA has stepped in where laws or rules that appear to be neutral have a particularly negative impact on those of a particular religious denomination. We work to ensure that religious minorities receive equal treatment and respect and that individuals are not discriminated against on the basis of their sincerely held personal beliefs.
CCLA was successful in stopping the practice of religious indoctrination in Ontario public schools, and was also a primary player in the campaign which brought an end to religious prayer in public schools. These important victories paved the way for CCLA’s more recent work on freedom of religion, which considers complex questions around when freedom of religion is seen as conflicting with other important rights, including the right to equality. CCLA also collaborates with partners in other countries to raise awareness of religious freedom and equal treatment issues around the globe.
CCLA recently appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as an intervener in the case of Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al., which centres on whether the recital of a prayer at the beginning of public city council meetings violates provisions of the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms and, in particular, whether rights to equality and freedom of religion, are unjustifiably infringed.
CCLA’s position in the case is that State-sponsored religious coercion, in the form of the recital of a religious prayer at public city council meetings, violates the right to equality and freedom of religion and conscience, and that these violations cannot be justified under the either the Quebec or Canadian Charters. There can be no justification for state compulsion in matters of belief, and the context of the particular case pointed to the by-law’s clearly religious purpose and effect. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the recitation of the prayer was a violation of rights under the Quebec charter.