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Secularization, religion and human rights

December 6, 2013 — 

Alumnus and human rights lawyer David Matas will speak on the topic of “Freedom From Religion” at the Dec. 11 Visionary Conversations. He shared some of his thoughts with UM Today in advance of the event.


The topic is “Freedom from Religion: Is Government Going too far in the Secularization of Society?” My general approach to the topic would be that government can go too far and in many instances has gone too far. Religious intolerance can be intolerance of religion as much as intolerance by the religious. Globally, Governments have persecuted believers viciously in the name of atheism.

Secularization is itself not a human rights value. Freedom of expression of belief is. The human rights purpose of secularization is to prevent the state from showing preference for one belief over another. However, secularization which represses the expression of belief turns a principle of neutrality on its head. The determination to squelch the expression of religious belief in public officials is secularization gone mad.


Human rights lawyer David Matas.

Human rights lawyer David Matas.

David Matas earned his Bachelor of Arts at the U of M before going on to Princeton University to earn a Master of Arts. He then attended the University of Oxford where he earned a Bachelor of Arts (Jurisprudence) and Bachelor of Civil Law. Matas is a Winnipeg lawyer and human rights advocate who focuses his private practice in refugee, immigration and human rights law for more than three decades. He serves as senior counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, and is a founder of Beyond Borders. He has received many awards and honours including the Order of Canada in 2009 and the 2009 Human Rights Award from the International Society for Human Rights. He was nominated with former MP David Kilgour for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for their investigations into organ harvesting of Falun Gong followers in China.

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One comment on “Secularization, religion and human rights

  1. Suzanne Thomas

    Both Canada and the United States are predominately a Christian Society and we should be proud of it – it is who we have been since our inception. We celebrate Christmas, and Easter in particular. This should not be minimized because we have so many other religions in our society. We show no disrespect to other religions by our culture – Other religions must respect our Canadian culture – they have the freedom to celebrate and have their own religion and are free to advertise it and claim it. I am shocked that Education boards give in so much to anyone who says not to say the Lords prayer in schools – if a parent does not want their child to take part, then fine, they can sit down or leave the room – but don’t expect the whole class or school to stop. Sometimes our leaders have no backbone or perspective on just who we are as Canadians and just cave in to any group who speaks up about their issue.

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