How does Canada compare to the U.S. in terms of how many people are religious? Christianity still plays a large role in U.S. politics, how much influence does it have here?
When commenting on JFK’s 1960 speech about the separation of church and state, Rick Santorum, a 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination candidate, said, “I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up.” (Ironically, people often throw up upon reading that quote.) Here’s a high profile American politician in pre-vomit mode just thinking about the lack of God in government. And Santorum isn’t alone in religiously slanted U.S. political views. Remember Richard Mourdock blessing us with his belief that if rape causes a pregnancy it’s “something that God intended to happen“? Wow! WOW!
Deep breath . . . and we continue.
Let’s take a look up here (Canada). Stephen Harper is a member of the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA), a church with strong similarities to American evangelicalism. In terms of church, CMA is pretty hardcore. Yet, we live in a country where gay marriage is legal and abortion is not only allowed (without things like mandatory pre-abortion ultrasounds as in some states like Alabama, Texas and Mississippi), but paid for by our government. Why is it that we often hear about issues like this causing poo-poo storms on the U.S. political front, while here they might just cause a little flurry now and then?
You might think, “Oh, we’re just better at separating church from state,” but actually, at least on paper, you’d be wrong. The American constitution has zero mention of God. Not only is it a completely secular document, the First Amendment to the Constitution specifically states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The U.S. has a separation between church and state (and we have Thomas Jefferson to thank for coining that term). Meanwhile, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms starts off with, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
Boom! We’re all ‘Godded’ up around here! At least our paperwork is, but what about the people?
According to a 2003 Gallup poll, 83 per cent of Americans said that religion is “either very important or fairly important.” True, in Canada, the numbers were less, but 62 per cent is nothing to scoff at. It shows that a large number of Canadians still hold religion in high esteem. So, again, why is it that U.S. news stories about the U.S. have way more God talk than your average 10 p.m. date with Peter Mansbridge?
“The major difference between the States and Canada is in the public discussion of religion.”
So, we all might be talking to God, but we’re not talking about talking to God.
Toulouse attributes Canada’s less public attitude towards religion to our favourite guy, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
“Trudeau made a concentrated effort to shift an understanding of [a Protestant and Catholic] Canada to a new notion of a multicultural Canada where all were welcome.”
Toulouse suggests that in order for Canada to be successfully multicultural, Trudeau wanted to create an environment of minimized conflict.
“He really felt it was important to help people understand that religion was fine and good and appropriate, but mostly private.”
So, as typical Canadians, we stay quiet, this time about religion. But quiet or not, Canada’s government has way more involvement with religion than the U.S. government. We still have publicly funded Catholic schools, they don’t. We have God in our founding documents, they don’t. Our government can give money to religious groups, theirs can’t.
The U.S. has been secular from the start while we’ve been pretty religious in comparison. Maybe we just hear more about it down there because, you know, Americans talk louder.