Fighting Over God: A Legal and Political History of Religious Freedom in Canada
By Janet Epp Buckingham
McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014
Reviewed by Kathryn Teeluck
In Fighting Over God, Janet Epp Buckingham offers a fascinating exploration of the historical role of religion in Canadian political life.
She begins her analysis by examining the status of religion before Confederation when religion, particularly Christianity, held a prominent role in every aspect of society.
The mid-20th century, however, saw a rise in secularism, and religion was increasingly removed from the public sphere. The implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought the issue of minority rights to the forefront as the increase in religious plurality in Canada necessitated safeguards against the “tyranny of the majority.”
Buckingham’s review gives the reader a clear understanding of how the role of religion has developed in the political realm. Christianity has given way to the protection of minority rights, which helps us contextualize the controversial issues we see today.
Throughout the book, Buckingham references legal cases to underscore how changes in societal attitudes toward religion have required courts to establish a delicate balance between competing rights. Freedom of religion, she says, has become freedom from religion in the public sphere.
The most important point Buckingham emphasizes, however, is that dialogue between dissenting parties is far more productive than legal action when working towards the common good. She quotes Ole Riis who said, “A court verdict may answer the grievance, but it hardly paves the way for coexistence.”