Friday, December 14, 2007

Very Interesting

I'm not the world's biggest fan of Canadian law, to put it mildly, but the Supreme Court just came out with a pretty darn interesting ruling you could talk me into liking. The case is about some Orthodox Jews, but, with some luck and a bit of elbow grease, it might one day be used to rule against the far more serious and widespread misogyny of a certain other religion...

Here's the ruling if you'd like to see for yourself. The question is whether Canadian courts have any say over Jewish divorce practices - specifically, the awful Orthodox rule whereby a woman cannot get a (religious) divorce and remarry in the faith without the husband's permission (as the ruling explains, this permission is often used as a bargaining chip by the man to get concessions from the woman in the civil divorce). In this case, the man (a real s.o.b. by the looks of it) signed a contract with the woman promising he would release her from the marriage after the civil divorce, but then refused to do so, and said the courts had no right to enforce the contract, since it was a question of his religious freedom. Today, the Supreme Court stood up for women's rights and told him exactly where he could shove that religious freedom.

Key lines from the decision:
"The claim to religious freedom must be balanced and reconciled with countervailing rights, values, and harm, including the extent to which it is compatible with Canada’s fundamental values." (the Court defending Canada's fundamental values??? please, nobody pinch me - if this is a dream, I don't want to wake up)
"Any impairment to the husband’s religious freedom is significantly outweighed by the harm both to the wife personally and to the public’s interest in protecting fundamental values such as equality rights and autonomous choice in marriage and divorce."

Meanwhile, the dissent puts up a warning flag right away by invoking the loathful m-word: "Canada’s adoption of multiculturalism and attachment to the fundamental values of freedom of conscience and religion and of the right to equality guarantee to all Canadians that the courts will remain neutral where religious precepts are concerned."

The other big warning flag is that he concludes with a quote from Gandhi. I have few hard and fast rules about life, but one of them is that anyone who concludes with a quote from Gandhi is a moron.

Though, to give the dissenter some credit, he does somehow talk himself into seeing his dissent as protecting a woman's right not to wear the hijab. He writes, "The courts may not use their secular power to penalize a [...] refusal to wear the veil." I would counter that he's just framing the issue wrong here; the question wouldn't ever be whether the court can intervene to punish a woman's refusal to wear the veil, but, in accordance with Canadian (and not multicultural) values, whether the court can intervene to protect her from having to wear the veil and submit. I think that this ruling will certainly help make such a legal attack on the hijab possible.

But then again, like I said, I'm no judge and will never be, so what do I know? With the Supreme Court's track record, they'll probably make an exception for Islam and use this ruling to force Catholic ordination of transgendered atheists.

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