Human Rights, the Church, and Canada’s Summer Jobs Program

by Colin Liske

While it is true to say that the proper task of the church is the proclamation of the Gospel, it is also true that Christians need to relate to the world around them, a world where human rights are very important and where many new human rights are being claimed today.

As such, it is important to note that the new federal government Summer Jobs Program for 2019 may still violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Up until 2017 all applicants could freely express their own values. In 2018 they could not do so. That year the Summer Jobs Program required all applicants to tick a box which demanded that they attest to a number of relatively new legal rights that were set forth by the government, rights that run counter to the Bible.

The attestation required for the 2019 program is itself more general, stating simply that ‘the Summer Jobs Program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.’

Some of the rights in question have recently been added to the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977, as updated on June 19, 2017, saying that included in prohibited grounds of discrimination are sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The requirements of the 2019 Summer Jobs Program also explicitly mention that these relatively new legal rights cannot be violated.

Further, the new Summer Jobs Program requirements state that projects or job activities that ‘actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual or reproductive health services’ are not eligible. Undermining or restricting is then defined as ‘weaken or limit.’

But what exactly does this mean? These new requirements for the Summer Jobs Program not only still contradict the Bible, but they also may very well violate the fundamental, natural freedoms of expression, of conscience, and of religion that are guaranteed in the Charter. Does ‘weakening’ a woman’s access to ‘reproductive health services’ also include speaking against this at a youth summer camp, or distributing such pamphlets? It probably does.

Our fundamental freedoms were historically and philosophically based on ‘natural law’ or ‘natural rights,’ which meant that they could not be changed. This philosophy says that all people possess these natural or fundamental human rights by nature, by the simple fact that they are human beings. Cicero, like other Stoics, taught in The Republic (first century B.C.) that ‘There is in fact a true law—namely, right reason—which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men and is unchangeable and eternal.’ In his Second Treatise of Government, John Locke, the British philosopher of 17th century England who so greatly influenced the shapers of revolutionary America, reflected Cicero and many others in speaking of this Law or State of Nature when laying down the philosophical foundations of human rights.

This understanding of natural rights asserts that such natural human rights must not be taken away from the people by governments. People have these rights by nature. These natural and fundamental rights are also to be distinguished from other legal rights that may be created in law by governments. This means that our core natural human rights cannot be superseded by, balanced by, interpreted by, or compromised by other newly created legal rights.

The tragedy of the attestation requirement in the government’s Summer Jobs Program is not simply that it still appears to violate natural and fundamental freedoms, but also that it undermines the very basis of the existence of any human rights whatsoever—including every other new human right that might be created by law. Without a solid, unchanging basis of natural rights, the only authority for any ‘human rights’ that can be claimed at all is that held by virtue of power alone, legal power wielded by whichever government happens to be in power at the time.  At such a point, the claim that ‘might makes right,’ as portrayed in Plato’s Republic, is again live and well.

Nor does the notion that the new attestation can simply be applied to the ‘active work’ of the organization applying for funds provide any clarification, for it is in the very nature of these natural, fundamental freedoms to be carried out in public activities, not just in one’s own internal conscious believing or thinking. Apparently, the government last year objected to certain participants in the Summer Jobs Program distributing pamphlets that reject some of the values the government promotes. But the writing and distributing of such pamphlets is an activity that is done in freedom of expression. Item 2b of the Charter says that freedom of expression includes ‘freedom of the press and other media of communication.’ Activities done in freedom of expression cannot be taken out of the public square. It is not freedom of expression when expression is shoved into a closet.

But how does all this relate to the Church? While Scripture does not speak the language of human rights, the law that St. Paul speaks of in Romans 1:18-27 and the conscience he references in Romans 2:12-16 (including this law that was ‘written on our hearts’) has always been in general agreement with the philosophic tradition of natural law in the western world. This tradition of natural law began in western philosophy at least with the Stoics, even before the time of Christ. They held that there were natural laws that governed ethics just as there were laws that governed the physical world. Luther himself appealed to conscience, as well as reason, at the Diet of Worms.

Together, these philosophers and Christians in the western world thus ultimately forged a political consensus on the basis of natural law. This culminated in the western tradition of law and human rights, which informed the constitutions of a number of countries in the western world, as well as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  To begin abandoning this human rights tradition, as our federal government still appears intent on doing, is most perilous.

While the pursuit of human rights is not the primary task of the church, Christians and non-Christians alike would nevertheless do well to warn against the development of new legal rights which undermine traditional fundamental and natural human rights. The survival of real human rights depends on it. In the meantime, Christians would be wise not to accept government funds through the Summer Jobs Program or agree to the new attestation; the details make it appear tainted. One cannot help but think of the columnist Father Raymond J. de Souza, who called the funds last year the government’s “thirty pieces of silver.”

Rev. Colin Liske is a retired philosophy teacher and Lutheran Church–Canada pastor living in Nanaimo, B.C.

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Human Rights, the Church, and Canada’s Summer Jobs Program

Posted By: Christopher Pelletier
Posted On: January 11, 2019
Posted In: Feature Stories, Headline, National News,

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