The State of the Canadian Church — Part 2
Each week, CC.com links to stories about religion in the mainstream Canadian press under the banner ‘National Print News‘ (formerly called ‘News Links’). These links are grouped together in categories each week, which provides a ready-made tool for analysis. The leading categories are discussed below. Second in a series.
Religion was prominent in the mainstream Canadian news in 2008, but mostly for its conflicts with mainstream society and hardly ever for its contributions.
Islam & the West
There is no question what the leading religious news category in the Canadian press was in 2008. There were 206 stories on “Islam and the West”, almost twice as many as in any other category. The reason is not hard to determine: conflict makes news. Many of the stories concerned attacks by Muslim terrorists, terrorist plots and terrorist allegations. (Some of the latter proved unfounded, as in the Maher Arar case.)
As well, quite a few stories involved clashes between Islam and Western standards, such as various groups and agencies restricting the wearing of the hijab (female head covering) and other traditional dress. These cases often involved safety concerns, and many were resolved in favour of Muslim complainants by Human Rights tribunals. There were also stories about the Muslim practice of polygamy and Muslim treatment of women generally.
Many stories also involved complaints by Muslims that they were being negatively portrayed in the press. There seems no question that stories about Muslim terrorism present Muslims in an unfavourable light. There is also no doubt that terrorist acts are intended to attract the attention of news media. The more difficult question is whether the coverage was fair.
A generation ago, there would hardly have been any stories on Islam. This shows the rapidly increasing impact that Muslims are making in Canada. This is partly due to increased immigration of Muslims to Canada, but they still represent just over one percent of the population. Tiny minorities are not necessarily powerless to impact society.
The second most prominent category concerned life issues, specifically abortion and assisted suicide/euthanasia, with 110 stories.
The abortion issue was prominent especially because of the controversial awarding of the Order of Canada to abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler. The issue also made the news because of Conservative MP Ken Epp’s proposed bill to recognize unborn babies as separate victims when their mothers are killed or attacked.
There were also stories about the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s proposed policy requiring doctors to facilitate abortions; about the ‘bubble zones’ which prohibit pro-life protests near abortion clinics; and about students unions on university and college campuses refusing to recognize pro-life clubs.
The assisted suicide issue made the news because referenda to legalize assisted suicide were voted on in some US states, which added momentum to proposals to legalize it in Canada. The issue also made the news because of requests for parole by Robert Latimer, convicted of killing his handicapped daughter several years ago.
Human Rights tribunals
Human Rights commissions and tribunals were also prominent in the news for their dealings with religious issues, with 98 stories. Ironically, one of the main issues was whether Human Rights complaints about “hate speech” pose a serious threat to freedom of speech.
The most prominent of the Human Rights complaints were Muslim complaints against writer Mark Steyn and Maclean’s magazine for their coverage of Muslim issues. Muslims also complained about Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant’s decision to republish cartoons that had sparked outrage and violence in the Muslim world.
Also prominent before Human Rights Commissions were complaints that Catholic Insight magazine and other Christians were guilty of inciting hatred against homosexuals. Christians worried that such complaints could hamper their ability to freely teach Christian sexual morality.
Generally, the Muslim complaints were dismissed by Human Rights Commissions, but the complaints by homosexuals against Christians were upheld. The common thread seems to be that Human Rights Commissions subordinate religious rights to other rights.
There were 56 stories about the practice of polygamy by a Mormon cult in Bountiful, BC. Some of the stories related to the same cult’s practice of polygamy in the United States.
There were 30 stories about homosexuality, particularly the clash between homosexual ‘rights’ and Christian moral teaching. A fair number of the stories concerned the agreement between the B.C. government and Murray and Peter Corren to introduce ‘gay-friendly’ material into the public school curriculum. There were also stories about Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski’s earlier mocking comments about homosexuals.
There were also stories about gay-bashing American preacher Fred Phelps’s claim that the beheading of Tim McLean on a greyhound bus was God’s judgment on his lifestyle. Phelps threatened to send protestors to McLean’s funeral, which was held in a Christian church in Winnipeg. His actions prompted many Canadians to attend the funeral in order to blockade Phelps’ people, and the protest never materialized.
There were seven stories about three cases of alleged sexual abuse by Christian leaders. Thankfully, this issue is not nearly as prominent as it was a couple of decades ago. (Hopefully, this means there are fewer such cases.) There were also 3 stories about the Canadian government raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16, a move encouraged by many churches.