Category Archives: Intellectual Freedom

Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close. — Ronald Reagan

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There’s no business like show business, least of all in the United States. Americans love celebrity, flamboyance, sensationalism and showmanship whether it is in the entertainment industry, politics, business, journalism or religion. I am reminded of this in looking at the careers of  Aimee Semple McPherson and Anita Sarkeesian, two women from Canada, who found fame and fortune in the United States by means of shameless self-promotion, partnership with men endowed with shrewd business acumen, and through a masterful use of electronic media to broadcast their simplified and sensationalized messages to a wide and receptive audience. How they differ is that Aimee Semple McPherson found fame as a prominent Pentecostal evangelist in the first half of the 20th century; whereas, Anita Sarkeesian thrives in the present, promoting herself as a “pop culture critic.” Sarkeesian’s message is aimed at people who subscribe to the temporal ideologies of feminism and social justice. Despite these differences, if you look closely at the career of Aimee Semple McPherson and compare it to that of Anita Sarkeesian you will notice there are striking similarities, particularly as to the question of the character of both Aimee Semple McPherson and Anita Sarkeesian. Continue reading

Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane. — Theodor Adorno

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The religious and the secular came to a head at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris when Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French citizens of North African ancestry, armed with Kalashnikov rifles opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 11 in an Islamist terror attack. The attackers were heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” and “the Prophet has been avenged.” Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper published weekly, produces satire in the form of caricatures, scrappy opinion pieces and jokes from a left-wing perspective. Among the targets of its brand of satire are the three Abrahamic faiths: Roman Catholicism (Christianity), Islam and Judaism. The caricatures published in Charlie Hebdo quite often consist of crude representations of religious figures such as Pope Benedict and Mohammed. Not surprisingly, this offends many people and generates controversy. The publishers of Charlie Hebdo were prepared to die to defend their right to freedom of expression; whereas, the Islamist attackers were prepared to kill to defend their faith. In the aftermath of the terror attack, differences of opinion concerning the right of freedom of expression and of religious liberty came to the fore. What was it that motivated the publishers of Charlie Hebdo and the Islamist attackers that resulted in this atrocity? Continue reading

True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete. — Malcolm X

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Imam  Syed Soharwardy is a respected Muslim cleric and scholar, chairman of the Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Assembly and founder and president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. His research interests in Islam consist of “Islamic beliefs, challenges for Muslims in the western world, conflicts within the Muslim community and interreligious conflict.” (Wikipedia) On August 22, 2014, Soharwardy drew attention to himself in announcing he was embarking on a 48 hour fast to protest the murder of James Foley, an American journalist, by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier in the week. In condemning the killing of James Foley, Soharwardy also made a bold statement declaring there is nothing Islamic in what ISIS represents, asserting:

I want to create awareness about the nature of their work — they are using Islam, they are quoting Qur’an, they look like Muslims, they pray like Muslims but they are not Muslim. They are deviant people, and they are doing exactly everything which goes against Islam. (CBC News Calgary)

In making this assertion, Soharwardy raises an interesting question. Do the actions of ISIS have nothing to do with Islam? Continue reading

The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement. — John Stuart Mill

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The publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1957 was a landmark in the movement that led to the destigmatization of homosexuality across the Western world in that it brought about the decriminalization of male homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967. The repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (48 & 49 Vict. c.69) accomplished this. Section 11 of the Act, in particular the clause known as the Labouchere Amendment, applied to male homosexuality. In short, the clause provided for a term of imprisonment “not exceeding two years”, with or without hard labour, for any man found guilty of “gross indecency” with another male, whether “in public or in private”. In 1953 the Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyffe, referred to male homosexuality as a “plague over England,” and vowed to wipe it out. In 1954, the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution was convened with John Wolfenden appointed chairman. Continue reading

The emphasis must be not on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control. — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Controversy rages on in U. S. society over the issues of religious liberty and sexuality. The right to marry, the destigmatization of homosexuality and reproductive freedom are issues that, historically and in the present, conflict with deep-seated religious beliefs and traditions in U.S. society. While the U.S. Congress and State Legislatures addressed these issues, especially in passing legislation to guarantee religious liberty, disputes concerning religious freedom and sexuality more often are settled by the courts. In 1967 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. In 2013, SCOTUS struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and refused to hear the appeal of Proposition 8 in California. This removed legal barriers to same-sex marriage. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the U.S. in 2003 when SCOTUS ruled on Lawrence v. Texas. Most recently, the decision handed down by SCOTUS in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is generating heated discussion in the media and blogosphere. In this instance, SCOTUS ruled on a dispute between the issues of religious liberty and reproductive rights. Continue reading

I have always believed that I should have had no difficulty in causing my rights to be respected. — Eli Whitney

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Equality between the sexes, particularly the equality and participation of women is something we value in Canadian society. This is enshrined in Canadian law in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Section 15 Equality Rights, which expressly prohibits discrimination based on sex and allows for the legislation of affirmative action laws designed for the “amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Moreover, since 1971 among the departments of the government of Canada, you will find that of the Status of Women Canada. The mandate of Status of Women Canada is to promote “equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.” (Status of Women Canada) Yes, the status of women is taken very seriously in Canadian society, but what of the status of men? Continue reading

As long as teachers give tests, there will always be prayer in schools. — Unknown

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The issue of the practice of religion and religious education in Ontario schools has been a contentious issue throughout their history. The first Board of Education was established in Upper Canada (what became the Province of Ontario) in 1823. In 1824 the Board of Education was allotted funds to provide  for the “moral and religious instruction of the more indigent and remote settlements.” (The school system of Ontario) While Christianity was the dominant religion in Ontario in the 19th century there were sectarian divisions, notably those between Protestant and Roman Catholic, but there was also division between the various Protestant denominations, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, for example. These divisions created strife and hard feelings regarding the provision of moral and religious instruction in Ontario schools. By the 1840s Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882), a Methodist clergyman and champion of public education, proposed “common schools” to educate children of all faiths. This was really quite forward thinking of Ryerson, but the divisions in Christendom at the time were so pronounced this was not possible. Continue reading

We are living at a time when creeds and ideologies vary and clash. But the gospel of human sympathy is universal and eternal. — Samuel Hopkins Adams

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Is religious liberty under threat in the United States? This is an interesting question and bears examination. The controversy over the passage of SB 1062 in Arizona and the decision by the Governor, Jan Brewer, to veto the legislation has many people insisting their religious liberty is threatened and determined to stiffen their resistance to this perceived threat. Regarding religious liberty in US society, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, in 1944 (then Federal Council of Churches of Christ), formed the following definition:

Religious liberty shall be interpreted to include freedom to worship according to conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents; freedom for the individual to change his religion; freedom to preach, educate, publish and carry on missionary activities; and freedom to organize with others, and to acquire and hold property, for these purposes. (as cited in Wikipedia)

At present, these are fundamental freedoms guaranteed in US law. Is there any reason to believe they are at risk? Continue reading

Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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Years ago, I remembered while discussing theology with a group of friends, one in the group referred to himself as a pious atheist. I was taken aback by his comment as piety and atheism were not terms I associated with one another. Piety is most commonly associated with religious beliefs and practices. Since then, I gave this notion a great deal of thought: is secular piety a possibility? This question is worth considering in that how one expresses their piety in an increasingly secular society has become a contentious issue of late; as is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises). The stated aim of the charter is to ensure there is a clear separation of religion and state and that public employees have religious neutrality. What this means is wearing ostentatious religious symbols or garb on the job will be prohibited. Continue reading

I think Islam is in a sense, in crisis. It needs to question and re-question itself. — Azar Nafisi

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Criticism of religion is a tender subject. Criticism of Islam, in particular, is especially so as is evidenced by the court battle that threatened to take shape between the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald (spokesman for Prime Minister Harper). The NCCM filed a notice of libel in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice over remarks made by Jason MacDonald in dismissing their objection to the inclusion of Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the Beth Avraham Yosef Synagogue in Toronto as part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Harper on a visit to Israel in January 2014. MacDonald dismissed their objection stating “we will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to terrorist organization such as Hamas.” (as cited in CTV News) The NCCM objected to the inclusion of Rabbi Korobkin in the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Harper because he hosted speaking engagements featuring Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two noted critics of Islam, in September 2013. Continue reading