President's Blog

Freedom of Religious Assembly (Bill C-51) in Canada

In this blog I wanted to comment on the current legislation (Bill C-51) being considered by our Federal Government considering religious assembly protections. The consequences could be very real in how Christians and clergy conduct themselves within the “public square”.

Freedom for Religious Assembly in Canada (Bill C-51)

On June 15, 2017, Bill C-51 was introduced to the federal government with four objectives relating to our current criminal code in Canada:

Clarify and strengthen the laws of sexual assault. Remove obsolete or duplicate offences. Remove or amend provisions now found unconstitutional by the courts. Provide a statement ensuring every Government Bill describes how the Bill may impact the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The clause that the church in Canada should be concerned about is Clause 14 of Bill C-51. It eliminates a law that protects clergy and a law that protects the assembly of religious worship services.

Currently, Section 176 (1) of the criminal code protects clergy from prevention of performing religious duties including travel to perform those duties. A wedding, preaching, hospital visitation, communion?

Section, 176 (2) broadens this protection to anyone participating in the religious service by criminalizing the intentional disturbance or interruption of the religious service. Disrupting a worship service, vandalism, and public protests due to opposition to church dogma? Bill C-51 eliminates both these laws. Bill C-51 will be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the fall of 2017 when Parliament resumes sitting.

What’s at Stake? One could argue these two sections are outdated in the 21st Century or that other current laws will cover these concerns. However, if an individual were to silently protest, with a placard stating “politely” his concern for your church’s beliefs, he would be in his legal rights. Not charged for “uttering threats” or “forcible confinement” by stopping a pastor from going to preach at his church. There is conduct that would no longer be considered criminal if sections 176 (1) (2) were removed.

To learn more click HERE for information from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), or HERE for information from the Gospel Coalition.

Soon the EFC will be intervening in a Supreme Court case that determines whether the courts have the right to weigh in on the disciplinary process of membership decisions of churches and other faith communities. Should our government make determinations on matters of theology and religious practice?

What’s at stake? Does a former member of a church have legal recourse for undergoing church discipline, violating religious belief and practice? Should government have jurisdiction over the internal decisions of churches and their core beliefs which are closely tied to these beliefs? What if a pastor or member declared their sexual orientation had changed since affirming their local churches statement of faith? The story continues…