Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Nose Hill.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says,
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
This declaration correctly situates conscience and religious rights in the individual, not in the community or the doctrine. A religious community does not have rights apart from the individuals within that group. A religious community does not have the right, for example, to compel someone to join or to remain in that group. A religious doctrine does not have rights either. To hate a person is wrong, and to discriminate against a person is illegal, but to hate a doctrine or an idea, or to treat differently an idea that is different, may be quite reasonable and proper. In any event, it is certainly part of what it means to live in a free society.
As I have said before, religious liberty is the liberty of the individual to choose and practise a faith or no faith. All of our human rights codes invest that freedom in the individual, yet many countries around the world deny that freedom. Sometimes, perversely, they deny it in the name of human rights or religious freedom, but they invest those rights in the community or the doctrine instead of in the individual. In some countries, the very practice of faiths other than the majority faith is prohibited. In some, the state seeks to control religious organizations. In some, conversion from the majority faith to a different faith is prohibited or punishable even by death. In some, insulting religion is prohibited. In some, conversion requires the approval of local authorities. In some, the freedom to worship is protected but the practice of faith in the public sphere is restricted by professional codes or by those who fear offence.
Unfortunately, in every country, religious liberty is compromised by the threat of violence. The attack on the Ste-Foy Islamic Cultural Centre was a terrorist attack, which by all indications, was designed to make Muslims feel unsafe in practising their faith, and therefore impeded. This was an attack on religious liberty.
In the face of this, I hope that the House will come together to clearly and decisively condemn religious discrimination, and while doing so, correctly situate that condemnation. We do not condemn debate about religion. We do not condemn the criticism of religion. We hope that criticism will be respectful and polite, but we recognize that mandating politeness is neither practical nor desirable. To condemn even rude or impolite criticism of religious doctrine would put the state in the position of needing to define or assess what is and is not polite, and that is unacceptable in a free society.
Last night, as I was preparing for this speech, I was thinking about the life and work of the late Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was anti-Christianity and anti-Islam, yet he did not advocate discrimination or violence on the basis of religion. He was anti-Christianity without being anti-Christian, and he was anti-Islam without being anti-Muslim. He was even, to be fair, somewhat rude from time to time. Still, his speech was very much tolerated by many and also well loved by many. I always found him thought-provoking and entertaining, and even occasionally insightful.
Religious liberty, including criticism of religion, is important. Why? It is because religions are systems of thought that seek to answer all of the most fundamental questions in life. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What will happen to us after we die? What is the nature of morality and of the good life? What is the nature and source of happiness?
Most human beings answer these questions by embracing unifying systems of thought that seek to describe the nature and origin of reality, and we call these systems of thought religions.
If we believe that these things are important, then we should be invested in creating the conditions that allow a free and authentic search for truth, a search that empowers individuals to realize and embrace true answers. The answers that individuals come to with respect to questions of purpose, morality, cosmology, and happiness are most likely to be true if they are come to without coercion, without physical coercion and without intellectual coercion; that is, if they are free from discrimination in all its forms and also free to make, to hear, and to consider opinions that are hostile to their own pre-existing ideas on religious questions. The authentic search for truth requires both. It requires freedom from the coercion that we call discrimination, and it requires the sometimes unwelcome, but always useful, freedom to receive criticism, hopefully polite, but not necessarily. These two freedoms are two sides of a coin of great value, indeed, of ultimate value.
In Dignitatis Humanae, Pope Paul VI wrote the following on the nature and origin of religious liberty:
...the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself....
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons—that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility—that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom.
Notably, John Stuart Mill, like Hitchens, an atheist, said something not dissimilar about the search for truth in On Liberty. He states:
...the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
Mill states later:
There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.
To be fair, it is not for comfort or for emotional solace that we defend a robust and fully coherent doctrine of religious liberty, at least not for these things alone. Rather, it is for a much higher purpose. Religious liberty is defended today for the highest purpose: for the integrity of the search for the highest truth. The integrity of that search for truth is compromised in many places and by many different forms of coercion. However, those who are sure of the rightness of their cause should understand and embrace the maxim that good ideas win fair and open debates.
I have spoken in this speech about two different kinds of coercion, and in the context of this broader debate, I think, in some sense, we can look at both.
Our friends across the way are opposing our motion today because the word “lslamophobia” is not included. To me, it is the height of absurdity to oppose the motion on the basis of the absence of a word, which in the motion they prefer, is not even defined. They insist on a word for which there is no clear definition, even in their own motion. They talk about the importance of condemning discrimination against Muslims. They should read the motion being proposed, which specifically refers to discrimination against Muslims as well as other groups.
The reality is that Islamophobia is a word with a particular etymology. Islam is the religion of Islam, and phobia refers to fear. It is not surprising, then, that many people regard the use of this word as describing fear of Islam. Some Liberals have said that this word means discrimination against Muslims. However, that is not what the word means etymologically or according to the Oxford English dictionary, which defines lslamophobia as dislike or fear of Islam as opposed to dislike or fear of Muslims.
As someone who believes that religious liberty is an individual freedom, I am concerned about terminology that seeks to condemn dislike or fear of doctrine as opposed to dislike or fear of individuals. One can believe in the freedom of individuals without liking or assenting to their doctrines. To discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion is coercion, which impedes the proper search for truth. Condemning the criticism of religious doctrines, through a motion or through legislation, is also socially coercive, because it seeks to deny religious believers their right to hear contrary ideas and to be challenged by contrary arguments.
Our motion has been characterized as a watering down. Ironically, the government has proposed amendments to our motion, while refusing motions on Motion No. 103 on the basis that they will not water it down. Is it watering down to ask for definitions? Is clarity watering down? I do not think so. I think providing clarity and actually knowing the meaning of the words we are talking about strengthens the motion and does not weaken it.
Our motion is clear. It waters down nothing. It condemns all forms of discrimination. It starts by condemning discrimination against Muslims. I certainly assent to the importance of doing that in the present time and in the present climate. Our motion condemns bigotry and affirms religious freedom in a clear way, in a specific way, in a strong way, and in the right way. It does not trade on ambiguity for the purposes of shameful wedge politics. It says what it means, and I commend it to the consideration of hon. members.