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During the last week of July, two court decisions in western Canada have demonstrated the increasingly tenuous state of religious liberty in Canada.

Orville Nichols
Photo from CBC

On July 23, Saskatchewan's Court of Queen's Bench Justice Janet McMurty upheld the ruling of the province's human rights tribunal that marriage commissioner, Orville Nichols, did not have the right to refuse to marry a same-sex couple in April 2004 on basis of his personal Christian beliefs (click here for more information). The tribunal had also ordered Nichols to pay the complainant $2,500 in compensation.

Nichols had appealed the May 23 ruling, arguing that his religious beliefs should be protected under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. McMurty dismissed his argument, however, in her 39-page ruling dated July 17, concluding that the human rights tribunal was "correct in its finding that the commission had established discrimination and that accommodation of Mr. Nichols' religious beliefs was not required." Nichols has 30 days to appeal the decision. He has not indicated whether he will do so.

There is hope that the Saskatchewan government will introduce legislation allowing marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons. The government has referred two versions of new legislation containing a religious exemption to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to rule on their constitutionality.

On July 25, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that all drivers' licenses in Alberta must require photo ID regardless of one's religious beliefs. After hearing the appeal by members of the Wilson Hutterite Colony more than nine months ago, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered a close 4-3 judgment to uphold Alberta's rules requiring a digital photo for all new licenses. Some Hutterite sects, however, believe the second commandment forbidding idolatry prohibits them from willingly having their photograph taken.

Glenn Penner, spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs, wrote in VOMC's Persecuted Church weblog on July 25, "It is not (our purpose) nor was it that of the Court to determine the validity of this interpretation of scripture. Nor do all Hutterites hold to this view. The fact is that there are those who sincerely believe this and to accommodate this belief would not have required the Alberta government to accept criminal behaviour by this religious group."

Please pray that God will continue to keep Canada "strong and free." Pray for church leaders in Canada to be courageous in standing up for religious freedom in their nation.

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