Fighting Over God*

In Newfoundland and Labrador in the late 1990s, the debate over constitutional protections for denominational schools was a big deal–I remember vividly the sense of righteous indignation.

Memories of this battle royal came back to me while reading Fighting Over God: A Legal and Political History of Religious Freedom in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014)–a new book that reminds us religious freedom has long been a defining force in Canada’s narrative.

Author Janet Epp Buckingham, a lawyer by training, is associate professor of political studies and history at Trinity Western University. She draws on at least 20 years of reflection and experience with the topic of this book.

Her intent here is to summarize, rather than analyze, and you can’t help but be impressed by her encyclopedic scope–she surveys over 600 legal conflicts across nearly four centuries. The chapters are arranged under themes such as education, broadcasting, employment and family life.

What is the place of religion in a pluralistic society challenged by secularism, where religious people often feel marginalized? Buckingham suggests “space for diversity” is crucial. Dialogue and negotiation are preferable to imposition.

“Canadian society,” she concludes, only impoverishes itself if it banishes “religion when it is perceived to be a source of conflict.”

This book will appeal to historians, political scientists and lawyers, as well as religious leaders and adherents.

*Originally published in Faith Today, September/October 2014

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