Richard Moon (University of Windsor Law) has posted Christianity, Multiculturalism, and National Identity: A Canadian Comment on Lautsi v. Italy. The abstract follows.
The Lautsi decision reflects the deep ambivalence in Western liberal democracies about religion and its relationship to politics. Like the Canadian courts, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) seems to recognize that religion and politics should be separated but that this separation can never be total. While the ECtHR and the Supreme Court of Canada rely at least formally on a similar test for determining a breach of religious freedom (a test that emphasizes the state’s obligation to remain neutral in spiritual matters) their application of the test is guided by different understandings of the public/political significance of religion and more particularly the relationship between religion, civic values, and national identity. The Court in Lautsi seems to accept, or at least acquiesce in, two claims made by the Italian government about the meaning of the crucifix: that it symbolizes the Italian national identity, which is tied to its history as a Christian or Roman Catholic nation, and that it symbolizes the Christian foundation of the civic/secular values of the Italian political community – the values of democracy and tolerance. Behind the claim that the crucifix is not simply a religious symbol but also a symbol of the Italian identity and political culture, is the draw of a thicker or richer form of national identity than that offered by civic nationalism. The assumption is that Italians are held together in a political community not simply by their shared commitment to liberal values or democratic institutions but by a common culture rooted in a religious tradition. Religion and politics are joined at the core of national identity and the root of political obligation. This link between religion and politics, though, rests on the problematic claim that the values of democracy and tolerance emerged directly from Christianity (and are the logical, even necessary, outcome of Christian doctrine) and the disturbing claim that Christianity is uniquely tied to these values. While religion does sometimes intersect with politics in Canada, it no longer plays a role in the definition of the country’s national identity. Canada, sometime ago, embraced multiculturalism as the defining feature of its national identity and liberal-democratic values as its political bond. There is no doubt that Canada’s moral/social culture has been shaped in different ways by the Christian faith of earlier generations, nevertheless any attempt to formally link Canadian national identity to a particular religious tradition would run against the country’s self-conception as a multicultural (multi-faith) society.