UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The meaning of ’freedom of conscience’ in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms : a polyvocal cultural analysis Manley-Casimir, Michael E.


This thesis examines the meaning of freedom of conscience and religion in s. 2 (a) of the "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms". Set within a polyvocal cultural heuristic, the thesis uses the voices of dramatists, historians, judges, legal theorists and ordinary people to illustrate and document the development and evolution of the meaning of conscience. In particular, the thesis focuses on whether 'freedom of conscience and religion' is one integrated right or whether the notions of 'conscience' and 'religion' are separable, such that it is possible to argue a non-religious, secular claim to conscience on constitutional grounds. Claims of conscience typically arise when the action of the state, for example through legislation, places an individual in the position where his/her unconditionally important beliefs or principles are threatened or offended. Under these circumstances state action may be perceived by individuals as coercive and may create a personal dilemma of significant gravity. The right to freedom of conscience confers upon the individual not to be coerced by state action. Since the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms" confers the right to freedom of conscience and religion upon 'everyone', this language must by definition extend to those whose conscience is religiously informed as well as to those whose conscience is secular and ethically grounded. Hence both religiously informed claims and secular, ethical claims must be eligible to receive constitutional recognition. The thesis concludes by articulating the elements of a test to enable judicial recognition of a valid claim to conscience on secular, ethical grounds within the framework of a pluralist and multicultural society.

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