David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Rights and Religions

Brandon Sun, March 13, 2010 - David McConkey

Despite the gains made in advancing women’s rights, many cultural and religious customs haven’t caught up with modern times.

Being the week of International Women’s Day, this is an ideal time to take stock of where we are at. And where we might be going.

Let’s not forget that many rights for women are really quite recent. Women only got vote in Canadian elections 90 years ago. In Canada, legalized birth control and the first women’s shelters were just 40 years ago.

Let’s remember the fight for these rights, and especially the role that Nellie McClung (who was born in Westman) and other Manitoba women played.

Of course, we still have a ways to go, especially for women’s rights around the world. (The global situation was well described by friend and fellow Brandon Sun columnist Zack Gross in this space last Saturday.)

Cultural and religious discrimination of women is an important factor. So here’s an intriguing question: Do we have the right to criticize religions when they discriminate against women (and other groups such as homosexuals)?

Absolutely! Yes, we must respect freedom of religion, but citizens have the right to criticize the religious beliefs of others.

And we don’t have to look to faraway places. We can look at religious beliefs right here in Canada, because there is a gap between the values of modern democratic societies and many religions.

In democracies, there is a general agreement to extend rights. And not just rights, but responsibilities, too. We are setting aside the old concept of “chivalry” and acknowledging a far-reaching equality of women and men.

We now expect men and women to take on new roles: from men being more responsible as fathers to women serving in the armed forces.

While democratic secular values are converging in the recognition of equality of women and men, religious values are diverging.

Some religions, like the United and Anglican churches in Canada, recognize the equality of women and men. Others, like Roman Catholicism and Islam, do not.

This illustrates a fundamental difference between secular and religious values. In secular society, there is a right and a wrong.

Among religions, however, there is no absolute right and wrong. Moral values are relative, depending on which religion is being considered.

What some religions condemn as a sin, other religions praise as a virtue.

This divergence can be clearly seen with gender roles and sexuality, such as the equality of women and men, polygamy in marriage,  same sex marriage, divorce, birth control, and abortion.

Religious diversity is increasing. Just look at the change since the 1960s.

Back then, many religious leaders were in tune with changes in society, like more rights for women.

A Baptist minister, Tommy Douglas, was the leader of the left-wing NDP.

There was talk in the 60s of religions coming together. The United Church was discussing union with Anglicans; Anglicans were looking at joining with Catholics.

Many Catholics were adopting modern ideas such as equality for women, married and women priests, and birth control. Many thought the Church itself would change as well.

Now, of course, the scene is entirely different.

The Catholic Church is firmly against the equality of women and related modern values such as birth control. 

Religions are not uniting. They are splitting apart, often with the cleaving point being fundamentally different views of women’s and gay rights.

A Tommy Douglas Baptist minister of today could not be leader of the NDP, because of that party’s views on matters such as abortion rights.

Looking to the future, citizens should not take rights for granted. They can be taken away, like when the referendum in California in 2008 rescinded gay marriage rights.

When rights are being eroded, it is usually from religious pressure. 

The religions in Canada that are opposed to women’s equality rights are strong.

The religions that are in favour of women’s equality rights are in decline.

According to a recent large-scale poll conducted by Project Teen Canada, one-third of Canadian teenagers identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

What’s even more interesting? More teenagers in Canada identify themselves as Muslim than the Anglican and United churches combined.
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See also:  

Religion and Values in the Public Square

The Evolving Nature of Belief


Book Looks at Islamic World

Role of Religion in War and Peace

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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Some Reviewed Books:

The War on Drugs:
A Failed Experiment

War on Drugs

Read the Review

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The Atheist Muslim:
A Journey from Religion to Reason


Read the Review

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Stranger Than We Can Imagine:
An Alternative History of the 20th Century


Read the Review

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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


Read the Review

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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
A Dialogue

Islam Future

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Extraordinary Canadians:
Nellie McClung

Extraordinary Canadians Nellie Mcclung

Read the Review

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution

Greatest Show on Earth

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