We don’t have a constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State in Canada. Good thing, too.
I’ve always thought that the neat compartmentalizing of the two in the United States created a monster. Wherever a border is established, you can always find people willing to fight over it. And while they are busy sweating the small stuff—a crèche in a public park, the Ten Commandments in a courthouse—the secular arm is launching yet another crusade against the infidels, or defending Israel until the Third Temple is built, or quoting Christ in one of his infrequent bad moods (“If you aren’t with us, you’re against us”).
Just as the few piercing insights of Christ and other visionaries became encrusted, silted and sedimented with Law, and ultimately fossilized—the letter killeth, indeed—so too did the legal separation of Church and State. There is more jurisprudence swamping this thing than you can shake a rod or a staff at. State puppets of the “Christian Right” vs. the ACLU. Round…well, who’s counting. The Hundred Years War has nothing on these guys. In one form or another, this bare-knuckle epic is nearly two hundred and twenty years old, and still going strong.
I prefer the Canadian way.
We did have a brush with theocracy once upon a time, in the province of Quebec under the heavy, clerical-fascist hand of Maurice Duplessis. In its heyday, his regime padlocked houses thought to contain “Reds,” took away the livelihoods of Jehovah’s Witnesses, censored books and busted unions--and the Church was pulling most if not all of the strings. A deputy in the legislature, reacting defensively to a critic, stated that “Cardinal Villeneuve doesn’t run our government” – at which another deputy rose to demand that this “insult” be retracted forthwith. But Quebec today is (with a few unfortunate backward glances towards the visceral anti-Semitism of the Duplessis period) a highly secular, sophisticated, educated, worldly society. They threw off those chains in the ‘sixties, and everyone is better for it.
Well, not so fast. Wasn’t there that whole Morgentaler thing in the ‘seventies? Henry Morgentaler was a Jewish doctor who performed abortions when they were still illegal. Some of the Church folks must have literally seen horns sprout from his head. The secular arm went after him, with the blessing of a federal Cabinet minister (Otto Lang, a devout Catholic), and he was jailed, abused—and acquitted, again and again and again. Events moved on, a new Quebec government declined to continue the fruitless persecution, the abortion law was overturned, and that was that.
But see the difference? We got all that stuff fixed without constitutional separations and so on. Canadians don’t like being bossed around, and when the Church tries to do it, it gets smitten with a mighty smite. Just look at all the bad press Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary got when he condemned Jean Chrétien (that’s John Christian to our American friends) to eternal hellfire and damnation. He was made to look quaint and foolish. I almost felt sorry for him. Ditto the benighted soul who put together a “Creation Science Museum” in Big Valley. He and Henry ought to be in a museum of their own. Take the kids.
Naw, this sort of thing won't fly. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a doughty group trying to fan the bumblebee’s wings. We’ve got Gwen Landolt, fighting the unwinnable fight, and going down for the count so regularly that a doctor ought to step in. Abortion? BAM! Same-sex marriage? KA-POW! Gay-bashing as a hate crime? CRUNCH! Even our (hopefully temporary) fling with conservative extremism in the person of Stephen Harper hasn’t led to any reverses on the secular front, and, despite well-meaning expressions of concern in progressive ranks, it ain’t gonna. Landolt is now espousing bizarre conspiracy theories that have probably led to a temporary shortage of aluminum foil in nearby supermarkets. Bishop Henry is undoubtedly still hopping up and down on one foot, goaded into near-madness by Revenue Canada’s suggestion a while back that he tone down his partisan politics or risk losing his tax-exempt charitable status. We don't burn our martyrs--we tax 'em.
That’s how things are done up here in the Great White North. Forget legal separation—as everyone who’s been through one of those things knows, it’s just a marriage in disguise. Church and State are two utterly different things in Canada, never had much of a relationship in the first place, and won’t be getting together anytime soon. We simply won’t have it. Vox populi, vox dei, baby.
The preceding was a Blog Against Theocracy.