The Canadian Conception of Equal Religious Citizenship

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Law and Religious Pluralism in Canada. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2008.


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; Equality Rights; Freedom of Religion


The author describes the Canadian conception of equal religious citizenship, one in which religious freedoms and religious equality rights are allied in advancing the right of religious persons to participate equally in Canadian society without abandoning the tenets of their faith. The core idea is that society must accommodate individuals’ freedom to hold and express religious beliefs and engage in religious practices unless doing so would interfere with the rights of others or with compelling social interests. Canadian law takes a more robust approach to equal religious citizenship than can be found in the human rights jurisprudence of many other countries. The Canadian understanding of religious rights is a positive manifestation of a commitment to a non-assimilationist model of citizenship, one aimed at promoting equality and multiculturalism. The author reviews a number of recent incidents that indicate that in the current climate characterized by fear and outrage directed at the violence and oppression perpetrated in the name of religious fundamentalism, religion is too readily and quickly seen as a threat to equality or security, and all religious freedoms become vulnerable to being too lightly overridden. The resulting downward pressure on religious rights is as great a threat to the Canadian model of multicultural citizenship as that posed by religious fundamentalism.

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