Faith Column: Church and state and prison
Removing faith options for inmates
It’s been an astonishingly busy month for Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews.
It’s no real surprise though, as he’s been attempting to single-handedly transform Canada’s traditionally progressive system of incarceration to something more akin to Texas’: in the past 30 days, he’s banned pizza parties, shut down the common sense (and cost saving) notion of a needle exchange and deflected criticism that the government is secretly attempting to privatize the prison system.
But perhaps of greater concern — and relevance to this column — is Toews’ recent announcement that all part-time prison chaplains who aren’t Christian will be fired by March of next year, leaving 80 full-time chaplains to provide spiritual care to some 15,000 inmate across the country.
Only one of the full-time staff is Muslim, with the other 79 being either Catholic or Protestant.
The explanation, as expected, concerned slimming the budget. But, considering that the entire chaplaincy program costs an estimated $6.4 million a year out of the almost $3 billion that the Conservatives are pumping into the federal correctional system annually, it can be reasoned that this is a purely ideological move (just as Mitt Romney threatening to cut funding to PBS in the first U.S. presidential debate was).
This isn’t about the bottom line. This is about the dissolution of the church/state divide in favour of the majority’s religious beliefs.
For the 12 per cent of inmates who aren’t Christian, that means they’ll have to seek out spiritual counsel from people who don’t share and haven’t studied their world views.
Anyone who has even an elementary comprehension of religion can grasp the ludicrous nature of this idea: there are fundamental differences between the theology and rituals of religions. Christian chaplains just won’t cut it.
But this attitude isn’t unique to Toews: this is how evangelical Christianity has always operated.
Such a mindset has been present in everything from Pope Urban II’s crusades to Youth With A Mission (YWAM) to the Billy Graham crusades to Wycliffe Bible translators.
The Christian faith is undoubtedly infallible to adherents, and the billions of people that believe otherwise are, well, wrong. In order to solve that problem, people just need to be saturated with tracts and shitty worship music. Note my sarcasm.
What Toews has done in this situation is simply institutionalize such a worldview.
It’s blatantly obvious that Christian chaplains won’t be able to provide Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu prisoners anything close to what they desire, because they will have entirely different — and oftentimes oppositional — perspectives.
But that doesn’t seem to be of particular concern to Toews, because Christianity is the religion of the majority (and the majority government).
The minister’s office assures us that “the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding.”
That’s a complete lie.
Canada prides itself on religious pluralism and the compassionate treatment of inmates, but this recent announcement adds even more evidence to the argument that our current government is a theocracy of sorts that is seeking to proliferate its religion by “picking and choosing.”
We’ve already witnessed such religious fanaticism with the government’s bizarrely emphatic endorsement of Israel’s sovereignty and its massive support of the recent abortion bill.
This announcement is perhaps the most overt sign of the government’s religious underbelly, and it gives even more reason to be concerned that Canada will resemble Texas in more ways than one in a few years.
Let’s hope the opposition parties do their job.