Jesus and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Muslim woman in niqabThere has been a new development in the ridiculous debate in Canada about whether Muslim women should be allowed to dress as they like at citizenship ceremonies (not at any point requiring identification). The Courts previously shot down the Conservative policy that Muslim could not dress as they like because… well, because they’re Muslim and picking on them has picked up a lot of likely new voters before the election? I still haven’t really heard any actual reason beyond “we don’t like it because it’s different than us.” The Conservative government promised to take it to the Supreme Court to appeal and requested the policy be maintained in the meantime. Yesterday that request was denied.

I tweeted out that freedom wins and got this curious response:

and democracy looses[sic].What happened to the majority rules scenario!Like most things in Canada it’s gone to minority groups

Majority Doesn’t Rule

First of all, if you think minorities rule this country, you’re not really paying attention unless by minority you mean the rich.

Secondly, I feel the need to clarify how our system works since this seems to be a common mistake. Our system is not “majority rules.” We are a constitutional monarchy, although the monarchy part plays no practical role. Along with the constitution, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This guarantees Canadians a lot of important things like free speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religious practice. There are checks on these freedoms, which we call the notwithstanding clause, e.g. your right to extend your arm doesn’t continue into somebody’s face. Sometimes it gets confusing whether something should qualify, but in most cases like this one it is pretty clear when it isn’t hurting anybody.

For American readers, the Charter is like the amendments to your constitution. They are ultimately the highest law of the land. We cannot make other laws that violate these higher laws as they are interpreted by the courts. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality had a similar process. SCOTUS did not change the laws; they interpreted the highest of laws and ruled that it applied to same-sex couples as American human beings. Same thing with the niqab: they ruled that our government policy was against the Charter.

Jesus Defending the Minority

How does this tie in for me as a follower of Jesus? These rights exist primarily to protect minorities. Jesus spent time with outcasts of every type. He had women among his disciples. He ate with the hated tax collectors and with prostitutes. He revealed his identity to a Samaritan woman who had been married multiple times, an outcast on multiple fronts.

One story I would particularly draw attention to is the woman caught in adultery, or as I think it is more appropriately called, the religious leaders caught in judgement:

while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.[a] When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”[b] And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]][c]

This story is fascinating. This woman has been dragged before Jesus as a test. Even more humiliating than being publicly judged is being completely dehumanized so you can serve as an example of how wrong somebody else is. She’s just a pawn in their game. The exact same thing has happened with the Muslim woman who wanted to wear a niqab to her citizenship ceremony, Zunera Ishaq. It took me a few minutes to find her name. Few are talking about her as a person, even though she bravely stood up to the policy to start this whole debate and should be applauded for that. She’s been made into the image of all that is evil, worthy only of our dismissal.

Jesus refuses to judge the woman who was made a pawn in the game of the religious leaders. Instead, he turns the tables on them: he without sin can cast the first stone. Nobody could do it. Nobody has the right to dehumanize another. That hasn’t changed. The Charter helps protect our minorities from oppression of the majority – we can’t just do whatever 50% + 1 of the population want to do – and Jesus’ ministry shows complete agreement with this idea of protection of the oppressed.

Jesus and Government

I’m always tentative to endorse the idea that Jesus supports any type of government. Jesus seemed pretty clear that the way of his followers was different than the way of the Romans. Of course in some ways our government is better than Rome, including those theoretical equal rights. In other ways it definitely isn’t any better, like income inequality and enforcing laws through violence and threat of violence. I don’t think Jesus is interested in our governments forcing anything on anybody. He is, however, interested in helping us take holy shifts forward as individuals and communally.

But if you call yourself a Christian, one of Jesus’ followers, you should be following him into standing up for the outcasts. That means women like Zunera and the millions of other Muslims who have been stigmatized – and sometimes physically assaulted – as a result of the dehumanization in current political rhetoric.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.