Joshua P. Morgan, Special to The London Free Press
Calgary Transit’s Rainbow Pride bus, shown off by officials at its rollout last month, is at the centre of controversy after one transit driver refused to drive it on religious grounds. That got Londoner Joshua P. Morgan thinking about the intersection of rights and freedom. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network
People often say it’s a free country. It’s really not. It actually costs a lot, including limits on your freedom you may or may not agree with.
One freedom that is gradually being eroded is the ability to answer to your own conscience and think for yourself. These restrictions are often portrayed as progressive, and therefore their mandatory nature excused.
There are more examples happening in Canada now than I can list, but I’ll pick a few.
A Calgary bus driver who identifies as a traditional Christian says he would rather be fired than drive a bus painted with the LGBT pride flag. He says it is counter to his beliefs to support homosexuality; therefore he will not drive that bus.
But he doesn’t have the right to refuse. The union collective agreement says he can only refuse to work over safety issues, thus the city says he has no choice but to take the wheel if they tell him to.
I say this is wrong. He should be free to decline to participate in something that runs counter to his faith.
Now before you brand me a homophobe, you should know that I’m gay and proud of it. I also say you have no right to deny me work, housing, benefits or a seat at the table because of whom I chose to love.
The two opposing rights are not mutually exclusive.
In a truly free country, you have the right to live according to your beliefs, and I have the right to live according to mine. Human rights, dignity and equality under the law should naturally be enshrined.
But laws are different than beliefs. You do not have a right to tell me what to think, nor can I insist you agree with me.
That is why I found it offensive when Justin Trudeau announced he was making it mandatory for all of his candidates and MPs to vote pro-choice if they wanted to run under the Liberal banner.
By insisting on this position, he is not only obliging his members into a position they may not agree with, but he is forcing anyone who votes Liberal to effectively endorse abortion.
Abortion is legal in this country. Fine. That’s the way it is.
Here a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body and she can terminate her pregnancy if she decides. I have no right to interfere or tell her what to do.
But it doesn’t mean I have to like it and it certainly shouldn’t mean I’m forced to support it against my will.
Trudeau, or anyone like him — including the Calgary transit authority — who tells people what to think and gives them no right to refuse is not embracing the diversity this country has come to represent, nor are they promoting the democratic values we supposedly embrace here.
We don’t force doctors here to perform abortions if they do not want to. Nor should we. But women have a legal right to get one; that is what the law says. And she can, from people who agree with her choice and conduct the procedure voluntarily.
Balance and integrity are preserved by protecting everyone’s right to freely choose and act according to their own beliefs and conscience.
That bus driver can’t refuse to let me on his bus because I’m gay, but he should be entitled to disagree. I can’t legislate he be my friend.
In the United States, a different case has caused controversy. Kim Davis, in her role as an elected Kentucky county clerk, is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because of her religious beliefs.
A fair compromise is that religious institutions like churches can refuse to perform gay marriages, but not agents of the government who must follow the law of the land.
Officially, there is a clear separation of church and state in America. In my view she is not personally issuing the license. She is doing it on behalf of a secular government as an elected official and if she can’t live with it, she should resign.
Besides, her oath of office is clear: “I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality, so help me God.”
The difference between the bus driver and the clerk is that the bus driver is merely an individual employee and anyone can do his job for a few days. The clerk is sworn to her office and made a promise of impartially to the public.
In a lawful society, no one is entitled to hurt someone based on their individual beliefs. But they also should not be forced to endorse any given set of principles because someone else says so.
In a democratic society, if you don’t like the law, you advocate for change and try to persuade people to your point of view. You don’t impose it on an individual level against their will upon pain of personal consequence.
That is the equivalent to a thought dictatorship.
Joshua P. Morgan is a London resident and criminology student.