Friday, October 22, 2004

Federal Revenue Agency Intimidates Only Conservative Churches

Calgary Sun
Fri, October 22, 2004
Double standard threat to church freedom
By LICIA CORBELLA

There is, without question, a double standard in this
country when it comes to political debate in Canada.

Consider this. When was the last time the United
Church of Canada was threatened by a government agency
for entering political debate that could be viewed as
partisan?

My understanding is that has never happened, which is
a good thing, to be sure.

"Conservative" churches, however, are not so lucky.

As revealed yesterday in my column, Bishop Fred Henry
was called during the federal election campaign in
June by a bureaucrat with Canada Customs and Revenue
Agency (CCRA) who threatened that the church's
charitable status could be revoked if the bishop
continued to speak out against Prime Minister Paul
Martin's "moral incoherence."

It was very much an act of thuggery, reminiscent of a
mob-like shakedown, minus the kneecapping.

As Bishop Henry said: "The call was a veiled threat --
'you either play ball or we'll revoke your charitable
status number.'"

So what was the Bishop's sin, so to speak?

He revealed Martin's hypocrisy for parading about as a
"devout Catholic" while holding views diametrically
opposed to Catholic tenets on abortion and same-sex
marriage.

Concerned that his flock would be confused by the
mixed message being sent out by the PM, Henry wrote a
letter, published in the June 6 church bulletin, that
clarified the church's position on abortion and gay
marriage.

Some two weeks later, Henry got a call from a
"gentleman" from CCRA.

The Bishop called him back and was threatened with
excommunication, if you will, from tax-exemption.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in
Ottawa was informed of the CCRA threat, and many
bishops were "alarmed and surprised," said Bishop
Henry last night.

"There's definitely a double standard," says David
Krayden, national chairman of Concerned Christians
Canada, a Calgary-based advocacy group.

"The United Church involves itself in political issues
all the time -- many of which are easily identified
with a particular political party or parties," says
Krayden.

"As long as Christians stay in the left spectrum, you
can bet they won't be getting a call from the CCRA,"
he adds.

"But as soon as Christians become involved in
principled conservative issues -- suddenly there's a
problem with the separation of church and state."

Krayden is right. Yesterday, I received at least half
a dozen, mostly abysmally inarticulate letters,
agreeing with the CCRA's attempt to muzzle the Bishop
from doing his job, which is to instruct his
parishioners on moral issues.

All these letter writers brought up the phrase
"separation of church and state" -- perhaps the most
misunderstood phrase in the U.S. Constitution --
though these same people have never made the same
complaint when the United Church pushed the agenda on
allowing same-sex marriages.

So here's a quick crash course. The phrase "separation
of church and state" means the government should not
establish an official religion or control religious
groups. The main intent behind this First Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution was to protect peoples'
religious freedom from the mighty government; not the
government from religious peoples or bodies.

Look it up. The amendment was put forward and
supported almost exclusively by Christian men -- the
main framers of that glorious document of freedom.

Krayden points out that "free speech is an extremely
fragile thing," and he believes it's starting to crack
in Canada.

Prior to the election, lawyers for the Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Conference of
Catholic Bishops were apparently warned they would
lose their tax-exempt status if they became
politically active in the election.

"We're on very dangerous ground," warns Krayden,
"because the definition of partisanship in this
country is growing wider and includes any issue that
might come up in an election, when in fact
partisanship is much more narrow, it means endorsing
one party over another."

-----

Calgary Sun
Thu, October 21, 2004
Spirit of law
By LICIA CORBELLA

This story is essentially one of political thuggery --
if not outright blackmail -- that should concern all
of us who care deeply about freedom of expression and
freedom of religion.

During the federal election campaign in June, Catholic
Bishop Fred Henry was called by a bureaucrat with
Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) and
threatened that the church's charitable status could
be revoked if he continued to speak out against Prime
Minister Paul Martin.

This troubling issue was expected to be discussed last
night in Ottawa at the Canadian Conference of Catholic
Bishops.

The bureaucratic call -- designed to silence Bishop
Henry -- was made following the release of a pastoral
letter the controversial cleric wrote criticizing
Martin.

In his June 6 letter, which appeared in church
bulletins, Henry, who is bishop for Calgary and
southern Alberta, wrote: "In much of the secular media
Prime Minister Paul Martin is frequently described as
a 'devout Catholic.' However, his recently clarified
position regarding abortion and same sex unions is a
source of scandal in the Catholic community and
reflects a fundamental moral incoherence," he wrote.

"The Revenue Canada gentleman proceeded to say,
'you've engaged in an activity that's inappropriate
and violates the Elections Act. You're encouraging
people to vote a particular way and you're writing
this against Paul Martin.'"

"And I said: 'Wait a minute. Hold on. First of all, I
wrote a pastoral letter to my people not an open
letter. However, it was picked up by the media who
then asked me about my letter, and I think the
distinction is very important,'" explained Henry.

"I wrote the pastoral letter because what was going on
was the media was featuring Paul Martin parading under
the umbrella of being a devout Catholic and yet
contradicting church teachings with respect to both
abortion and same-sex unions and I said it's my
responsibility as a bishop first of all to teach. So,
in light of the confusion that's being engendered by
the media and by Paul Martin himself, who seems to be
exploiting it, I felt I had an obligation to write a
pastoral letter clarifying what the role of a Catholic
politician is and that Mr. Martin was not
representative of Catholic Church teachings."

In other words, Bishop Henry was doing his job.

In Canada, that's increasingly becoming a dangerous
thing to do if your morals conflict with those of the
reigning government. Indeed, Bill C-250, soon to be
law, could criminalize pastors for spreading "hate"
simply by reading portions of the Bible.

Regardless of your opinion on the issues of same sex
marriage or abortion or whatever, such heavy
handedness by the feds should scare anyone who loves
freedom.

"I regarded it as a veiled threat -- 'you better keep
quiet or else we'll pull your charitable number' --
that's what I took the whole thing to mean," admits
Henry.

The bureaucrat also asked Henry to remove his letter
from the church's website. To his credit, Henry
refused.

The bureaucrat then asked the bishop if he was
"'contemplating doing anything else.'"

"I said: 'I don't know what you mean but right now I
don't have a strategic plan as to how I might position
myself regarding this election but if there are moral
issues I will undoubtedly speak out about them.'

"I got the impression that he expected me to cave in,
profess my guilt and do public penance and I refused,"
said Henry, who added that the bureaucrat said he was
going to write a report to his superior about Henry.

A spokeswoman for CCRA said yesterday that privacy
rules prevent her from discussing the conversation.

But then Colette Gentes-Hawn denied any such
conversation could have taken place.

"We would never do that," she said from Ottawa.

"By all means, clergy speak out about moral issues.
They do this every day. It's their work. So we would
never tell religious charities that they can't speak
out about moral issues."

Who to believe? Hmmm? The bishop gets my vote.

Henry says he worries about the whittling away of our
freedoms and "regardless of the outcome and
consequences," he will never back down from speaking
the truth.

A lesson to live by.