Monday, September 12, 2005

Sharia and Uniformity

Dalton McGuinty's decision to not only block the implementation of sharia-based arbitration tribunals, but also all other religious-based tribunals is an interesting turn of events, and one that I would not have predicted. I'm not sure how long it will be before Christian and Jewish groups get upset with him for this decision.

A quick scan through the Progressive Bloggers reveals divergent opinions. Robert McClelland at My Blahg sees this as a short-sighted decision. He argues that subjecting sharia-based arbitration to Charter scrutiny could have aided in the process of implementing Islamic law reform.

Bradley Banks at A Little Bit Left is heralding the decision as a step away from the mixing of religion and state. I tend to side with Bradley on this one, as I tended to view religious-based tribunals as yet another step away from a common set of laws and practices guided by the state.

What I am wondering now, although I believe it to be unlikely, is whether Dalton McGuinty is going to make this decision a precedent for other areas of Ontario policy. Specifically, will he use this decision as a model for how to deal with religious education? Currently, Catholic schools receive government funding in Ontario, a status protected by the Constitution. Other religious groups have been clamouring for access to public funds for their schools, arguing that what is given to Catholics should be extended to them as well. There is merit to their arguments, insofar as one believes that the state should fund religious education. I fall in the camp that believes it should not, and I would welcome a decision on the part of the Ontario government to abolish public funding for religious education, and to seek a constitutional amendment allowing this change. If Quebec and Newfoundland can get rid of their confessional school systems, it could be done in Ontario as well.

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