Freedom of Conscience

AuthorRichard Moon
ProfessionFaculty of Law, University of Windsor
Despite the courts’ formal def‌inition of the scope of freedom of con-
science and religion as encompassing both religious and nonreligious
beliefs, religious beliefs have been at the centre of the section 2(a)
Charter1 jurisprudence. In their section 2(a) decisions, the courts seem
to regard religious beliefs and practices as special or as different from
other, nonreligious, beliefs and practices. The state should remain neu-
tral in matters of religion. It should neither support particular religious
practices nor restrict such practices without adequate reasons. While
the courts have said that freedom of conscience may be breached when
the state restricts a nonreligious practice, it is diff‌icult to f‌ind cases in
which section 2(a) has been successfully used to protect such a prac-
tice. Moreover, the courts appear not to have considered the possibil-
ity that section 2(a) may be breached when the state compels or sup-
ports a nonreligious practice. In other words, freedom of conscience
may sometimes protect the individual’s freedom to “conscience” (her
freedom from interference with her fundamental commitments) but not
1 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982, be-
ing Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter].

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