24 January, 2010

One of Bishop Fred Henry's (Calgary) classics

Here is an excellent article to contemplate when challenged to prove that the voice of faith has a right to be heard within every medium of modern society.

In a letter, written in defense of Pastor Steven Boissons, Bishop Henry of Calgary viscerates the philosophic underpinnings of modern day secularism as practiced today in Canada. It is this philosophy which dominates the public square these days, creating an ever increasingly hostile atmosphere for the free expression of one's religious convictions. You can say that a church is still free to speak and preach its creed and beliefs, however you demand that they be punished for believing in values contrary to current public opinion, then their speech is hardly free.

Given Bishop Henry's involvement in the NP Holy Blog story about a Calgary church being stripped of its charitable status, thus denying it the right to offer tax receipts. This decision is not made because they are not a charitable organization...they serve over 150,000 meals per year to the homeless and urban poor of the city. They are being stripped of this right because the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) has decreed that churches cannot spend in excess of 10% of their resources to argue for a traditional Christian interpretation of what constitutes a sin. This is nowhere established (yet) in law, but it is the actual policy, as it is currently being applied in Canada.

It's really is this simple. The government is over and over again punishing voices of faith publicly expressing their understanding of what is moral, and is using the instruments of the state to try to intimidate their expression in the public square.

Boissons was not only forced to pay a $5,000 fine directly to a person that claimed to be "injured" by his traditional christian teaching on sexuality written as a letter to the editor of a local newspaper which he did not agree with it, (thankfully overturned later by the Courts after a great deal of financial suffering by the minister), but he was prohibited from even talking about these subjects in any public forum... including in his own religious services (again tossed by the Courts after much expense - without Crown compensation I might add)!

People have the right to believe as they choose. They have the right to say so. They also have the right not to be financially punished for the expression of their belief. 

It would be nice if secularists would at least be as open and honest in admitting to the philosophy behind their arguments against religious expression in the public square, and own up to their prejudice against the arguments of faith.

11 comments:

  1. I would argue that Churches or any charitable institution, should only be allowed tax exemption for funds collected for and spent on charitable activities. Anything else they should pay taxes on.

    I would grudgingly accept that the expenses incurred for the running and maintenance of the Church itself should be included. Living expenses incurred by priests, especially the luxurious lifestyles of those elevated within the hierarchy, should be taxed. Payoffs to victims of self loathing, closeted Gay, child raping, sodomite members of the clergy should also be taxed.

    Any money that the Church spends on propagandistic public promotion of their hypocritical and self aggrandizing faux religious moral "natural law", is political expense and should not only taxed but subject to any statute governing political contribution.

    By entering the political arena in the way that they do, the Catholic Church has itself defined the playing field. Then they whine when they are required to play by the same rules as everybody else.

    The Church and Churchmen are no different than anybody else. You come out to play, you can get your knee skinned. You call us murderers, what do you think it's fair for us to call you? You burned people at the stake. Be careful in what neighborhoods you walk. Those people's descendants are alive today.

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  2. Reddog: We agree on the central point. What I am trying to point out is that the state has taken unto itself the right to:

    a) establish what is acceptable speech
    b) then it enforces this power in an unequal manner (pro-choice=good; pro-life=bad, or religious=bad; secular=good)

    Further, I do point out that money paid to clergy (no matter their rank) is taxed. I gross the mighty sum of $24,000 per year (plus room and board - a taxable benefit) and I pay income tax to the government. The government also establishes what donated money can be used for (that's why I complete a 16 page Charitable Institutions report every year, together with complete financial disclosure - available for public viewing on the CRA website) so that funds that are not used appropriately is not permitted.

    The Church does not want to be treated differently. We are simply demanding that we be treated in the same manner as other charities such as Planned Parenthood which is not subject to this same prejudice.

    Hope this helps to make my position clear.

    Fr. Tim

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  3. Tim,

    Let me begin by stating that I support Stephen Boisson's right to express himself. I would also add that his bigoted words were not religious in nature (although he did use some religious symbols). In fact, his own denomination (ECCC) stated that his words did not represent their views.

    Let me also point out that a number of prominent LGBTQ groups supported Mr. Boisson's right to free speech (e.g. EGALE and Xtra), while rightly criticizing the content of his small, vile and bigoted tirade.

    Regarding the Calgary Church who has had their tax exempt status revoked by the CRA, I have no opinion - since I do not have sufficient information to assess whether or not the CRA acted appropriately. I would also suggest that you do not have that information either.

    Regardless of the facts of the matter I point out that you are conflating a church privilege (i.e. tax exempt status) with the right to free speech (i.e. speak out publicly about moral issues).

    The church in question has not had their right to free speech curtailed in a manner similar to that wrongly imposed upon Mr. Boisson by the AHRC. That is a fact.

    Whether or not the CRA acted approriately with respect to the church in question is something that they should challenge in court if they have cause.

    The government is not obligated to provide charitable status to all who ask for it. The government is entitled to attach conditions, however, it must operate by clear rules and treat all parties equally under those rules.

    The RCC should be treated the same way as any other charitable organization. If you move into political advocacy, you should have your charitable status revoked. The same rules should apply to all. You are not entitled to state funding to promote your politics. Of course you are entitled to become a political advocacy group - however - you must also be prepared to accept the consequences of doing so.

    Cheers...Martin

    ReplyDelete
  4. Martin: But if the state applies a punitive sanction against a church for simply publicly speaking their faith, whether it is believed by others or not, is this not both unjust and an infringement of their freedom of expression rights?

    It is not an argument for Churches being classified as charities... they are. In stripping a Church of this status the state into declared that religious expression cannot be voiced in the public square. If I were arguing for churches meriting such a civil designation, your point would be valid. I think however that you are in error.

    Understand Marty, I would speak just as loudly in defense of any public expression of voices in opposition to the faith as I am here. I have read multiple reports and made inquiries of people involved in these affairs. I do not speak from a position of ignorance on this matter.

    All I am saying is that BOTH voices should have equal right to speak and participate fully in the institutions and debates of our country. I appreciate (as does Steven Boissons) the voices raised in support from within the GLBT community and I have offer the same when their voice is silenced. But they do not possess the monopoly on truth and different points of view must be free to be expressed (without sanction) within the public square.

    In the past, the church has abused its authority and kept competing voices from public exposure. This was wrong. It is just as wrong to tip the balance in the other direction.

    Tim

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  5. Hi Tim,

    The Calgary church is entitled to say what they want. This was the case before and after the CRA ruled on their tax exempt status.

    I acknowledge that they will likely have a tougher time affording to exist (and therefore will have a tougher time speaking out) if they do not have tax exempt status - but this is an unintended consequence of the CRA's actions.

    No church is entitled to state sanctioned privileges unless they meet the requirements of the state.

    Otherwise any organization can claim it is a religion and automatically receive tax exempt status. This would open tax payers up to potential spending waste with no social benefit.

    I do not have enough information to say one way or the other if the CRA's requirements were met, and whether or not the rules were applied fairly. Neither do you.

    He who pays the piper calls the tune.

    Cheers...Martin

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  6. Martin: Can the state arbitrarily change the rules of the game (forgive me the metaphor), especially in such fundamental areas as the freedom to proselytize without financial sanction? Again I state, up until this case there existed no "10% rule". It does not exist in legislation. Yet there is direct documentary evidence that such a policy is being enforced upon Churches. The CRA audited Fred Henry because he would not remove a pastoral letter he published on the diocesan website - unless of course it's a simple coincidence that these two interactions between them happened in such close sequence. But that my friend, calls for a leap of faith too big even for me to take.

    This is a persecution. It is the bureaucratic and arbitrary punishment for speaking their values.

    This is wrong.

    Tim

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't think it is persecution. And if memory serves, I think the 10% rule does exist for societies who wish to attain/retain charitable status. I just can't remember where I've seen it...

    Religions should provide for their own adherents and stop interfering in the lives of others. Proselytizing is not a right. At best, it is an annoyance. And interference in government by a special interest group who wants to impose their own rules on everyone else who is NOT a part of their religion should never, ever be allowed!

    If Bishop Henry wants to be politically active, no one is stopping him. But if he expects the taxpayers to pay for him to attack them and attempt to abrogate their civil rights, he needs his head read!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lady Janus: The 10% rule you mention is in fact a recent decision taken by the bureaucrats within the CRA. It does not exist in any legislation. Even if it did, it is being selectively applied and thus in this alone is unjust.

    The government is very much biased against any institution that is promoting a position different than its own. I do not speak here of the political element of our Canadian government but rather of those who are supposed to apply the rules as passed by our elected officials.

    In point of fact, up until this very day, any church has been allowed to dedicate 100% of its revenue to fulfill its religious goals. It has always been this way and has not been modified by legislation. Presenting the arguments for how we should live and order our society is part of the essence of every church, no matter its creed, yours included. When the government thus begins to infringe upon the rights of expression of any faith community, they become a threat to all.

    I thus do not believe it is Bishop Henry's head that needs to be read, but rather those of the bureaucrats who believe that they have the right to make such arbitrary incursions into the operations of any church in a ham handed attempt to curb their right to free speech.

    Fr. Tim

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  9. "In point of fact, up until this very day, any church has been allowed to dedicate 100% of its revenue to fulfill its religious goals."

    That's fine. Until those goals interfere with the free practise and expression of someone else's religion, that is.

    But on the ten percent, I think we're getting mixed signals and crossed wires. Your post states: "They are being stripped of this right because the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) has decreed that churches cannot spend in excess of 10% of their resources to argue for a traditional Christian interpretation of what constitutes a sin."

    I read that to mean that any church is allowed to spend however much it wants of its income on strictly religious activities; and with that I have absolutely no quarrel -- that's what they're expert at, after all. But they may spend no more than ten percent of their income on non-religious activities -- and that means getting involved in politics, which impacts everyone, including those who are NOT religiously-oriented, or adherents of this particular religion -- without losing their tax exemptions.

    Put two religions side-by-side. Any two. But make them pretty much opposite one another in nature, custom, and tradition. And try to pick two other than your own.

    Now. Which one of those two do you want running your government and impacting your life with their religious interpretations of what is acceptable and what is not?

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  10. Lady Janus: Well argued! I guess the only point of contention between us is in the definition of religious activity. If I speak within my Church, clearly I am engaged in religious activity. The question for me is why should I be limited to keeping at least 90% of that activity within the walls of the Church. Can I not (and as a Christian I would add, MUST I not) do what I can to inculcate the values I hold to be true into the culture/society in which I live?

    Would you not do the same?

    Fr. Tim

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  11. "If I speak within my Church, clearly I am engaged in religious activity."

    The walls do not define the speech, do they? If you are speaking about religious things, then you are engaged in religious activity, certainly. But if you are discussing politics, I don't see where doing it inside or outside the walls of the church will change the fact that politics and religion are not the same thing, and that politics should never be mixed with religion.

    As a priest, it is part of your job description to teach your church's values to your parishioners. And I have no argument with that. Anyone who disagrees with those values is free to go elsewhere and find a religion (or not) that suits him. But when it comes to insisting that everyone else in society must adhere to those values -- with which they may not agree -- then you're skating on very thin ice. Freedom of religion means freedom from religion, as well. And that includes freedom from another's religious values.

    "Would you not do the same?"

    Absolutely not! I herd cats, remember? There is no marching by rank and file and in time to the music in my religion. Everyone must find his own values and be his own "shepherd." Mine is a religion that insists on individuality. And reciprocal acceptance of one another's values.

    ReplyDelete

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