Beware the cultural wrecking ball

Preston Manning, Globe and Mail – October 9, 2009

Removing every vestige of our spiritual heritage would be a serious mistake
A Jewish cabbie in Montreal is ordered by the taxi bureau to remove religious icons from the dashboard of his car. And in Toronto, officials decide that a piece of playground equipment in a park depicting the story of Noah's Ark should be removed. In both these cases, the concern appears to be that such public expressions of religious beliefs are, or may be, offensive to those who do not share them. Or, as a Toronto alderman explained in justifying the removal of Noah's Ark, such displays are “inappropriate” because they go “against the city's general policy of inclusiveness.” No doubt it is the courts, guided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that will ultimately adjudicate the issue of what limits, if any, can be imposed on religious expression in a secular society that also claims to be democratic. But in the meantime, practical folk and elected officials accountable to them would do well to contemplate the extent of the wrecking ball operations that would be required if Canada were to seriously attempt to remove every vestige of its spiritual heritage – in particular its Judeo-Christian heritage – from the public square. Starting in Quebec, for example, one presumably would have to take the wrecking ball to all the publicly visible buildings and institutions with a religious history or vocation. More than 4,000 of these were identified as worthy of preservation by a committee of the Quebec National Assembly in its 2006 report Believing in Quebec's Religious Heritage. Moving to Ottawa, the first target for the wrecking ball would obviously be the Peace Tower, the most prominent feature of our Parliament buildings. If displaying religious material on public property at the centre of the universe is “inappropriate” because it goes against Toronto's “general policy of

inclusiveness,” surely it would be utterly intolerable to allow the Peace Tower with its prominent scriptural inscriptions to remain standing. And while we are in the nation's capital, would it not also be logical to take the axe to the Canadian coat of arms, the national anthem and the Constitution itself? Canada's coat of arms appears on all denominations of our paper currency and on Canadian passports. It is displayed by most courts, including the Supreme Court, and it's used in the Canadian Forces as a symbol of rank. These uses would obviously have to go since our coat of arms bears the inscription A Mari Usque Ad Mare – meaning “from sea to sea,” taken directly from Psalm 72:8. O Canada would clearly have to go since the original French version contains unseemly references to “carrying the cross” and a “valour steeped in faith,” while the third verse of the original English version is, from start to finish, an unapologetic prayer to the “Ruler Supreme.” And the Charter could not escape unscathed since its preamble acknowledges the supremacy of God, while its opening clauses seek to guarantee the freedoms of religion and expression, which the wielders of the wrecking ball seek to restrict. Time and space permit only a small sampling of the other obvious targets if the object were to remove every visible vestige of religious belief from the public square in our country. These would include many of the secular universities of Atlantic and Central Canada, most of which had their roots in religious institutions and still bear many of the hallmarks of that heritage. Trinity College at the University of Toronto, for example, would have to go since the Trinity referred to is the sacred Trinity, not the Three Amigos, as would much of the property of my alma mater, the University of Alberta, since it bears the inscription Quaecumque vera (“Whatsoever things are true”) taken from the writings of the Apostle Paul. And further west, the axe would need to be taken to all the totem poles and publicly displayed religious

artifacts so revered by B.C. aboriginals. It is not only ridiculous, but also dangerous for any nation to try to expunge the visible evidences of its own cultural heritage, even if some of those evidences serve simply to remind us of beliefs and practices we have chosen to refine, reform, or replace. And if a nation were to actually reduce huge portions of its centuries-old cultural heritage to a pile of rubble by means of the wrecking ball, by what possible conceit can those advocating such a course bring themselves to believe that whatever cultural values they would build in its place could survive or prosper for more than a generation? Let us respect the inheritance of the past not only for its own sake but also for the sake of preserving the best of the present and the future. Preston Manning is president and chief executive officer of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

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