Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican primate, said in a New Year’s Day sermon at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa that Canadian leaders are committing “folly” if they think they can ignore religion in the public sphere.
He noted, as other religious leaders have, that a memorial service on Parliament Hill after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States had no religious content, in contrast to services in Washington, D.C. and London that had significant participation by clergy of several denominations.
The Canadian Armed Forces’ chaplaincy committee had even been asked by the federal government for an “appropriate protocol for a prayerful interfaith response to the terrorist attacks,” but its suggestions were not followed, he said.
In an interview, Archbishop Peers said that what inspired his address was a letter in Macleans magazine that questioned a historian’s contention that “Western values of pluralism, secularism and democracy ? are under attack.” The letter-writer wondered whether “freedom, justice and the rule of law” aren’t truer Western values.
Archbishop Peers said he is not suggesting state religion, but noted that a Sept. 11 memorial service in New York City included clergy of many faiths and “inclusiveness” is the preferred option when giving religion a role in public life.
While Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism, it is a mistake to ignore the faith on which many of those cultures are based, he added.
“Imagine telling Sikhs and Muslims that their culture is respected … but the society has no place for their faith,” he said. “Faith and culture are intimately connected,” he said.
Canadian officials seem to think including religion means trouble of some kind, but “simply to say we are not going to open that door is folly,” he said.
“Eventually that kind of suppression implodes on itself, because it is a broad denial of things that run far, far deeper than material life,” said Archbishop Peers, who added that in the former Soviet Union, suppression of religion proved to be literally a bloody failure.