Barrie, Ontario, Canada
22 February, 2002
Continuing attempts to suppress the freedom of conscience of health care workers like Dr. Stephen Dawson (“Doctor’s Faith Under Scrutiny,” The Barrie Examiner February 21, 2002) give the lie to the claim, oft repeated by Canadian politicians, that protection of conscience legislation is unnecessary. Perhaps their complacent attitude reflects the influence of rigid party discipline that only rarely permits them the ‘privilege’ of voting according to conscience.
Professor J.R. Brown of the University of Toronto appears to covet the role of party whip, ready to lash or to exile recalcitrant ‘scum’ like Dr. Dawson for daring to let their beliefs affect their public behaviour.
Yet Professor Brown’s private beliefs affected his public behaviour when he asserted that people like Dr. Dawson should “find another job.” Will Professor Brown take his own advice? Or will he continue to speak, act and live in accordance with his own beliefs, even as he denies the same freedom to others who think differently – those whom he characterizes as ‘scum’?
Thoughtful readers will recognize that their relationships and their political and social activities are almost always governed, not by an analysis of empirical evidence, but by deeply held convictions about human dignity and equality, about good and evil, and other equally fundamental concepts. Some of these beliefs may be religious, others not, but all are beliefs. There is no reason, apart from anti-religious bigotry, to allow only atheists and agnostics the freedom to act on their beliefs in public life.