Friday, December 3, 2010

"Living Together With Disagreement: Pluralism, the Secular, and the Fair Treatment of Beliefs in Canada Today"


Iain T. Benson, Living Together With Disagreement: Pluralism, the Secular, and the Fair Treatment of Beliefs in Canada Today, Presentation to the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, University of Alberta (2010). Available on SSRN.

In this paper, Iain Benson reiterates his long-standing belief that the Canadian legal system has done a disservice to the role of religion in the public sphere by creating a regime where "secularism" is akin to official atheism instead of being "properly understood [as] a realm of competing faith/belief claims[.]" (p. 7) Benson illustrates his argument with long discussion of two cases: Chamberlain v. Surrey School District (which involved whether books that portrayed same-sex relationships as normal could be taught in schools over the objections of religious parents) and Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers (which involved whether the graduates of a conservative religious teachers' college that opposed homosexuality should be certified to teach in public schools). A major theme running throughout this work is a perceived clash between religious freedom and the rights of GLBT individuals, with Benson coming down on the side of the former in every instance. In the second part of the essay, Benson criticizes liberalism's supposed tendency to become a totalizing force that excludes genuine diversity of thought and belief for a homogenized "tolerance" that (in his view) seems to privilege the values of certain minorities (and their "sexual dogma") over those of mainstream faith communities. Benson has made similar arguments elsewhere, such as in Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society: Essays in Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy.

I don't find Benson's arguments particularly convincing and he occasionally assumes the position of a heavily-put upon minority and slips into a sarcastic, almost snide tone that is dismissive of GLBT individuals and what I believe are their legitimate demands for equal protection under the law. (see, e.g., p. 21) Benson is nowhere near as strident as many conservative Republicans writing during the U.S. culture wars, but he does seem to imply that GLBT individuals are the biggest threat facing the maintenance of "traditional" values in Canada.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Prof.

    I had/have no intention to be "snide" or "sarcastic" in my analysis. I also nowhere argue, as you suggest I do, for the maintenance of "traditional values..." much less that "LGBTTQQ" (to use the recent Ontario formulation) pose the greatest threat to this.

    That is a real mischaracterization of my work. I do argue,carefully, for a richer conception of pluralism and against pseudo liberalism and the "civic totalist" arguments used by many "equality" activists.

    I reject "values" language and have published on that as well. Please do me the courtesy of quoting my work accurately.

    I think it would be helpful if you would take an example of an argument you do not find convincing and spell out why that is so. That will be helpful to me and others thinking about these issues.

    All best,

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