Good government is a gift of God, an extension of God’s reign to which we gladly submit ourselves. And so we honour elected officials, recognizing their challenging leadership office. We regularly pray for God’s wisdom and blessing so they might govern justly and well for the common good of all. And then there are times when we need to speak words of correction to elected officials.
As you may know, the Canadian government has inserted an attestation clause in the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) application requiring each organization to give non-negotiable and unqualified affirmation of certain beliefs held by the current government. I am grieved that our government has required this attestation. It reads as a values test, and such a test should not be required in order to receive a public benefit. Such an attestation is contrary to the principles of a free and democratic society.
The problems of the attestation have been noted by many, including interfaith groups and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The impact of the attestation clause is significant. As a result, many faith communities are being denied equal access to a public benefit solely because of their beliefs or conscientious objection. These are communities deeply involved in the flourishing of our community and do much heavy lifting when it comes to caring for the poor and vulnerable in Canada. This government action limits the capacity of many faith-based organization to serve the common good.
The impact will be felt here at Knox too. Last year we received grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program. These funds were used to hire students who served summer campers in the city, providing a place of care, fun and faith. They helped provide valuable work experience for students who were saving for college or university, and step out into obedience to the Lord’s calling in their life. Our 2018 CSJ application was rejected because we were not able to sign the attestation clause.
The great diversity of our country means that we will never all agree completely on anything. And we cherish our country’s reputation for tolerance of differing opinions and beliefs. Therefore, we should all mourn if the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, as guaranteed in the Charter, are not respected and affirmed in Canadian legislation, regulations and policy.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. On March 19, MPs will vote on a motion on the Canada Summer Jobs program. The motion affirms that organizations that do non-political, non-activist work should be able to access summer student funding regardless of their private convictions and whether or not they sign the attestation of values and beliefs.
I encourage you to speak to your MP and urge them to adopt that motion. If you would like further helpful information on the matter, including further ways for you to respond, please check out the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s post here.
We do need to remember that no one has a right to funding or to a Canada Summer Jobs grant. However, if the government is going to offer grants, it must offer them on a level playing field and not use ideological screening to determine who is eligible to apply for funds.
I am hopeful, and let us pray, that the government leaders of Canada will see the value of a society that encourages all spheres of culture, including faith communities, to work together for human flourishing.
Rev. Dr. Philip Reinders
Knox Presbyterian Church