UK human rights chairman wants freedom of religion restricted

Trevor Phillips, the chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, has said that religious believers should not be free to adhere to their own tenets when acting in the public domain.  “Once you start to provide public services that have to be run under public rules, for example child protection, then it has to go with public law,” he said.  He agreed with the court ruling that forced the closure of all Catholic adoption agencies in Britain because they objected to adoption by persons identified as homosexual.  [The Telegraph]


Erroneous assumptions illustrated by editorial

Sean Murphy*

In an editorial titled, “Birth Control: Now a human right,” the Charleston Gazette has expressed support for the Obama administrations regulation that will force objecting employers to provide insurance coverage for “contraceptive services.”  The editorial illustrates five common unexamined and questionable assumptions frequently made by opponents of freedom of conscience in health care.

  • First: it assumes that ‘birth control’ and ‘contraception’ are equivalent terms; they are not.
  • Second: it assumes that contraception is a form a health care, something that many objectors deny.
  • Third: in failing to recognize the distinction that objectors make between contraception and treating illness or injury, it draws the erroneous conclusion that they might refuse to treat sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Fourth: it asserts that birth control (by which it clearly means contraception) is a “human right,” although this has not been legally established.
  • Finally: it suggests that employers who do not pay for employees’ birth control are interfering with their freedom.


EU Commissioner for Human Rights supports right to conscientious objection

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has issued a statement supporting the exercise of conscientious objection to military service.  He argues that objectors should be given a “genuinely civilian” alternative to compulsory military service, not imprisoned. [CE press release]

Rights Commission threat “blasphemy against the human spirit”

College of Physicians secrecy said unacceptable


For Immediate Release

Protection of Conscience Project

“Blasphemy against the human spirit.” That is how the Protection of Conscience Project describes a threat by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission to punish doctors who refuse to do what they believe to be wrong. The rebuke is found in a submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

Citing writers and philosophers in the democratic tradition, as well as the landmark Morgentaler decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Project argues that to force doctors to act against their conscientious convictions is “to deprive them of their essential humanity.” It calls the proposed policy “profoundly offensive and demeaning.”

“To abandon one’s moral or ethical convictions in order to serve others is prostitution,” states the submission, “not professionalism.”

The brief denies that doctors who refuse to do what they believe is wrong are violating the Human Rights Code. It explains that they are concerned about “complicity in wrongdoing,” not race, sex or other patient characteristics.

The Project submission addresses the College draft policy, Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Deadline for comment on the policy was extended to 12 September following protests when news of it became public.

The President of the College told the National Post that the draft has been revised, but refuses to make it public. Project Administrator Sean Murphy finds College secrecy unacceptable.

“At least two substantial briefs reached the College only on Friday,” he said. “The National Post story appeared Saturday. It seems very unlikely that College officials could have considered either submission before revising the draft. This brings into question the validity of the consultation process.”

“But the more important issue,” he said, “is that decision-making that impacts fundamental freedoms should be conducted transparently, not secretly. Why keep the revised draft secret? Is there something to hide?”


Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

Re: Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code

(11 September, 2008)

Proposed policy could severely limit freedom of Ontario physicians

Canadian Physicians for Life

For Immediate Release

(Ottawa) – In a letter today to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the president of Canadian Physicians for Life, Dr. Will Johnston, expressed concern over a draft policy relating to freedom of conscience and the lack of sufficient notice given by CPSO to all interested stakeholders that a consultation process, which officially ends today, has been underway since the end of June.

Canadian Physicians for Life is asking the College for a 90-day extension on the deadline “due to the importance of the issues at stake and the lack of opportunity interested stakeholders were given to comment on the proposal.”

The draft policy, that CPL only learned of late yesterday, would appear to severely limit the freedom of Ontario physicians to practice according to their conscientious/religious beliefs. The College apparently posted the draft policy document, “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code” on its website at the end of June and had set a deadline of today for input on the proposal.

In his letter, Dr. Johnston expressed surprise that the College would not have been more proactive in soliciting input on a policy that could have profound impact on both individual doctors and on the profession as a whole. CPSO does not appear to have issued a news release on the consultation process, and pro-life physicians have been taken by surprise.

Dr. Johnston wrote, “The College must have been aware that groups such as Canadian Physicians for Life — which represents doctors from across Canada who respect the dignity of all human life, regardless of age or infirmity — would have concerns with the College’s view that “decisions to restrict medical services offered….that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the [Ontario Human Rights] Code, and/or constitute professional misconduct.”

“Refusal on conscientious or religious grounds to refer a woman for an abortion could be deemed professional misconduct under this new policy,” Dr. Johnston said.

A similar requirement (that doctors must make abortion referrals regardless of their conscientious beliefs) was put forward in a July 2006 guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It triggered such a firestorm of controversy, that the Journal was compelled to publish a letter from CMA’s Director of Ethics stating that CMA policy did not require physicians to refer for abortions if it would violate their conscientious or religious beliefs.

Dr. Johnston concluded, “There could be serious problems with what the Ontario College is proposing and we need time to study the implications of this policy in detail. If doctors feel coerced into compromising their deepest convictions as a result of this policy, certainly that’s a problem-not only for the integrity of physicians, but also for the welfare of their patients.”

For further comment, please contact:
Will Johnston, MD, President
Canadian Physicians for Life
ph: 613-728-5433

Canadian Physicians for Life is an educational organization representing physicians who hold that reverence for every human life lies at the root of all medical tradition. Through the ages, this tradition has been expressed in the Oath of Hippocrates. It was rephrased in modern times in the Declaration of Geneva (1948), which says in part, “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”

Freedom of conscience and religion not a defence


For Immediate Release

Protection of Conscience Project

Ontario physicians are being advised that they are expected to give up freedom of conscience if they wish to practise medicine in the province. The expectation is set out in “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code,” a draft policy document from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The document responds to legislative changes, which, according to the Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, will see a twenty-fold increase in hearings before the Tribunal – from 150 to 3,000 cases per year.

According to the College, the Tribunal may take action against a physician who refuses to provide or refer for procedures that he finds morally objectionable. The College strongly suggests that the physician’s freedom of conscience and religion will be ignored because “there is no defence for refusing to provide a service” in such circumstances.

In addition to the possibility of prosecution by the Human Rights Tribunal, the College states that it will consider the Human Rights Code in adjudicating complaints of professional misconduct, even though the College admits that it lacks the expertise and authority in human rights.

The College also plans to force objecting physicians to actively assist patients to obtain morally controversial services. A similar demand – that objectors be forced to refer patients for abortion – generated fierce opposition when it appeared in a 2006 guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The College posted the draft policy for consultation near the end of June, with a response deadline of 15 August. The Project, noting that there was no news release about the draft and that “the mid-summer timing of the consultation is less than satisfactory,” has asked the College to extend the deadline by 90 days.

“Commentators like Rex Murphy, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant have condemned Canadian human rights commissions for suppressing freedom of expression,” noted Sean Murphy, Administrator of the Protection of Conscience Project. “Perhaps we should not be surprised to see them now being used to suppress freedom of conscience and religion among medical professionals.”

The Clash of Universalisms: Religious and Secular in Human Rights

The Hedgehog Review
Fall, 2007

Abdulaziz Sachedina, PhD.*

The major thrust of Islamic critique of the Declaration, however, is its secularism and its implied hostility to divergent philosophical or religious ideas. . . Perhaps the sore point in the secular human rights discourse, as far as Muslim theoreticians of rights language are concerned, is the total dismissal of anything religious as being an impediment to the modern development of human rights. . . .
Full Text

Nurses Triumphant! Human Rights Case Ends in Settlement

After a difficult five year struggle, eight Ontario health care professionals win the right to choose.

Markham-Stoufville, Ontario, Canada

Sue Careless*

Staff with religious objections will not be required to provide primary nursing care to a patient admitted for an abortion, but could be required to provide post-abortion nursing care. They would not, however, have to in any way participate “in the administration, monitoring or documenting of the pregnancy termination process.”

They did it!

After a five year battle, eight Ontario nurses won the right to refuse to assist in abortions at the Markham-Stoufville Hospital, just outside Toronto. The nurses had taken their fight to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and one nurse, Ailene George, had filed a civil suit.

They hope their victory will be precedent-setting. “I want all nurses in the future to have the right to say, “No,” said Joanne Van Halteren, one of the eight. “This will have a ripple effect.”

The case was to be heard by the OHRC, but the sides reached a mediated settlement April 13 in which the hospital issued a policy respecting the nurses’ religious objections to performing abortions.

. . . The nurses’ battle took its toll. One nurse, Ann Mahon, died of cancer in May 1998. Others suffered stress-related illnesses. Una Clennon had a lump removed from her breast that her doctor believed was brought on by stress. [Full text]