March 5th, 2005
Speech at panel discussion with Marion Boyd at Law Union Toronto
Religious laws contradict the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Separation of Religion and state is mandatory in order to guarantee an equal and just society for all.
We are told that religious arbitrators will promote “minority
rights” and to be more specific it will ensure minority’s religious rights. What is missing here are the rights of individuals within that group. What about the rights of my client “Nasrin” who was pulled out of school and forced to an arranged marriage?
To place “minority rights” above individual rights would mean forcing my young client Nasrin to get raped regularly for the rest of her life in what is a community - defined marriage. It would mean that members of the greater society, who are not part of that community, would be forced to accept this horrific act and be totally powerless in opposing or preventing it.
Such horrific scenarios will
occur when the government of
We are told faith-base court deals with civil and not criminal matters!! My question is where can we draw a limit on religious law and regulation? To subsume religious law into civil and criminal law is impractical. These types of classification are drawn by a secular court system not a religious. Under Sharia law there is no boundary between civil and criminal. For example, according to Sharia the least penalty a single unmarried woman can have for having sexual relations with a man is death by stoning. In the case of pregnancy outside of wedlock the punishment is death by stoning, right after the birth of her child. The same punishment is meted out to a married woman having a sexual relationship out of marriage. According to today’s enlightened view as seen from the perspective of modern secular society and according to criminal law in secular society, no crime has been committed by any of the above mentioned women!
In today’s civil society rape, child molestation, forced marriage
and child bride are all considered to be very serious crimes. According to Sharia law, however, girls as young as nine can be raped legally, under the guise of “marriage” by any man- even a man as old as their grandfather. One can give thousands of examples that in Sharia, there is no border between civil and criminal law.
Allowing religious interference in the justice system promotes respect and tolerance for minority beliefs and practice rather than respect for the individual. The problem is that the defenders of religious arbitrators see communities as having one homogeneous belief. The inhume aspects of this notion is the violation of individual members particularly women and children in those communities. This is an obvious discrimination against a significant part of the society. It is a delineation of different categories of citizens which is equivalent to racism.
I need to emphasize the fact that there has been a long battle
for recognition of the citizen and the citizen’s rights for the past 100 years. The reduction of the Church’s power over society and achievement of the secular system and secular legislations, did not come to us without a harsh struggle.
We are told parallel court systems are permitted legally in
order to prevent the hidden practice of Religious law. There is
no need to say that it is the duty of the State to protect the rights of all its residents, independent of their country of origin, religion, race, and gender. The law and regulation of a secular system must be able to disallow the hidden practice of so-called religious leaders. The law must be enforced! All the once who deny women’s in areas of marriage, divorce and child custody must face
consequences rather than recognition and validation.
The question is, should the government of
It has been emphasized that it is completely voluntary to
attend a religious court. What is being purposely ignored is
intimidation and social/ moral pressure to attend such a court. Women in so called Islamic communities are forced to not only accept inequality in all aspects of their lives but are also forced to respect all these degradations as the norm. Or else no women would voluntarily accept to have inequality in marriage, divorce, custody the list goes on and on.
Discrimination and gender –based persecution should not be
tolerated. All citizens should be equal before the law. Religion,
race, minority or majority should not serve as the basis for the definition of the civil rights of citizens.
Marion Boyd, on the panel discussion on February 26, 2005 at
CILSC (Canadian International Law Students’ conference)
questioned why it is that when the communities put social
pressure on individuals, it is called oppression but when
individuals are forced to resolve their disputes at the secular court system by the government, it is not oppression?!
A civil society has norms and standards. Part of these norms and
standards are the restrictions which are recognized legally and are
included in the legislation. These restrictions are beneficial to
individuals. Restrictions, such as punishing children physically even if it is part of the individual’s culture are recognized as crime.
Furthermore, there may be repercussions to certain parental decisions. for example, not sending children to school might cause
a child aid worker to step in and apprehend the child, forcing the
parents to lose their parenting privileges. Putting restriction on
culture so that it won’t become more important than women’ s and
children’s rights should not be called oppression.
There is no need to say we
still have many long hard challenges ahead for the total separation of religion
and state. Fighting Sharia tribunal is one important
step in defending universal rights for all who live in