Archive for the ‘Church and State’ Category

Science lessons to include creationism?

September 21, 2008

Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design

Teachers need to accommodate the differing world views of students from Jewish, Christian or Muslim backgrounds – which means openly discussing creationism and intelligent design as alternatives to evolutionary theory

Rev Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society

Photograph: Frank Baron

Link to this audio

What should science teachers do when faced with students who are creationists? Definitions of creationism vary, but about 10% of people in the UK believe that the Earth is only some 10,000 years old, that it came into existence as described in the early parts of the Bible or the Qur’an and that the most evolution has done is to split species into closely related species.

At the same time, the overwhelming majority of biologists consider evolution to be the central concept in biological sciences, providing a conceptual framework that unifies every aspect of the life sciences into a single coherent discipline. Equally, the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that the universe is of the order of about 13 to 14 billion years old.

Evolution and cosmology are understood by many to be a religious issue because they can be seen to contradict the accounts of origins of life and the universe described in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures. The issue seems like an ongoing dispute that has science and religion battling to support the credibility of their explanations.

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view. The implication of this is that the most a science teacher can normally hope to achieve is to ensure that students with creationist beliefs understand the scientific position. In the short term, this scientific world view is unlikely to supplant a creationist one.

So how might one teach evolution in science lessons, say to 14 to 16-year-olds? Many scientists, and some science educators, fear that consideration of creationism or intelligent design in a science classroom legitimises them.

For example, the excellent book Science, Evolution, and Creationism published by the US National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, asserts: “The ideas offered by intelligent design creationists are not the products of scientific reasoning. Discussing these ideas in science classes would not be appropriate given their lack of scientific support.”

I agree with the first sentence but disagree with the second. Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson. When I was taught physics at school, and taught it extremely well in my view, what I remember finding so exciting was that we could discuss almost anything providing we were prepared to defend our thinking in a way that admitted objective evidence and logical argument.

So when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion. The word ‘genuine’ doesn’t mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time.

However, in certain classes, depending on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body, it can be appropriate to deal with the issue. If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works.

Having said that, I don’t believe that such teaching is easy. Some students get very heated; others remain silent even if they disagree profoundly with what is said.

I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it – and to learn more science.

Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct. Rather, a student who believes in creationism has a non-scientific way of seeing the world, and one very rarely changes one’s world view as a result of a 50-minute lesson, however well taught.

Michael Reiss is professor of science education at the Institute of Education, University of London, and director of education at the Royal Society


Does faith have a place in medicine?

September 19, 2008


College of physicians debates doctors’ rights to refuse treatments

Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM

Stuart Laidlaw, Toronto Star, Faith and Ethics reporter

In 20 years as a family doctor in Canada and the United States, David McCann has never so much as written a prescription for contraceptive pills. He has never referred a patient for artificial insemination and never given out the name of a doctor who performs abortions.

“Referring a patient for a procedure that violates my conscience also violates my conscience,” McCann says. “That’s a form of co-operation with evil.”

McCann, who is Catholic, hopes to be present today when the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons debates a controversial policy outlining doctors’ limited right to refuse to provide medical treatment to patients on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

He worries that doctors are increasingly expected to check their beliefs at the door – something he says he cannot do.

“They are proposing a tacitly atheist set of rules,” he says.

The Catholic archbishop for Toronto, Thomas Collins, wrote to the college last week to say that, faith instilled in many doctors a desire to help others, and motivated them to get into medicine.

“Both physicians and patients must be free to remain true to their own convictions if medical decision-making is to retain its inherently moral character,” Collins wrote.

The Ontario Medical Association wants the college to scrap the policy draft altogether.

“We believe that it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious or moral beliefs,” the OMA said in a statement.

The draft policy warns “there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.”

College president Preston Zuliani says the policy is a warning to doctors that they could face human rights complaints over the issue in the future, and possibly disciplinary hearings before the college, should a patient take issue with a doctor’s decision.

“In our society, we all pay taxes for this medical system to receive services,” says Zuliani, a family doctor in St. Catharines.

“And if a citizen or taxpayer goes to access those services and they are blocked from receiving legitimate services by a physician, we don’t feel that’s acceptable.”

Changes to Ontario’s human rights laws are expected to lead to a jump in the number of complaints filed, which Zuliani says could lead to more complaints against doctors who, for religious reasons, refuse treatments, including abortions, birth control pills or artificial insemination for gay couples.

The college, he says, is not telling doctors they have to abandon their faith to do their job, but is trying to help them avoid complaints to the rights commission or to the college.

“The courts have generally ruled that the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs does not include the right to interfere with the rights of others,” he says.

The OMA, however, cautions against giving such guidance, saying in its statement that the college might inadvertently “misstate the law in this area,” thereby giving bad advice to doctors. It urges the college to simply refer any queries to the human rights commission.

The draft policy outlines several factors the college will take into consideration should a complaint be filed with the college, including whether doctors refusing service have been upfront with patients about their beliefs and provided advice to patients about obtaining the care they wanted elsewhere.

Zuliani says doctors are expected to provide a list of other doctors taking new patients. They would not, however, be expected to make a direct referral to another doctor who will provide a treatment they don’t support themselves.

“We are not asking doctors to be complicit by making a referral,” Zuliani says. “But they can’t withhold information, either.”

Dr. John Patrick of the Christian Medical and Dental Society said even giving patients a list of other doctors would make the doctor “an accessory to the act,” and so would be unacceptable.

“We need to figure out how we are going accommodate each other,” the retired pediatrician and biochemist said from his home in Ottawa.

McCann says he would not give a patient any such list, but says he is upfront with all patients about his beliefs. He would rather see the college fight on the behalf of doctors like himself to fight such human rights issues than send out warnings about potential problems.

Patrick says perhaps some sort of “dual system” – complete with separate medical schools – is needed for those who want their medicine to be based in religion, and those who do not.

Zuliani says he expects the policy to receive “some rewording” at the meeting today, saying the policy will be re-released for further debate if the changes are considered extensive enough.

The issue is also expected to be discussed at two Catholic medical conferences in Toronto next week.


Doctors’ body backs down on religion policy
Charles Lewis, National Post
Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The regulating body for Ontario physicians has backed off a controversial proposal that would have forced doctors to put aside their religious views when dealing with patients.

Protests from the Ontario Medical Association and numerous religious groups appear to have tempered the thinking of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The new document, released on Wednesday, has removed provisions that would have potentially seen doctors face more misconduct charges for putting their own conscience before the convenience of patients.

For example, it could have applied to doctors who not only refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or do fertility treatments for same-sex couples, but also to those who refuse to offer referrals to doctors who do those things.

“Referring is just a way of sloughing off your responsibility,” Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, said last week. “If you’re opposed to these things, referring is the same as taking part in the evil.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons released its first draft policy in August. It warned doctors that they could see more charges being filed through the Ontario Human Rights Commission for withholding services. But it also indicated that doctors would face misconduct charges by the college as well, something that happens in no other province.

The new policy, which is scheduled to be voted on today, now serves as more of a warning about what doctors may face from the Human Rights Commission.

“The draft policy was always meant as a basis for discussion,” said Jill Hefley, a spokeswoman for the college.

Last week, the Ontario Medical Association asked the college to abandon the draft policy because it “interfered with physicians’ existing rights and freedoms.” It said the draft failed to note that doctors are also protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, like any other citizen.

“We believe it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.”

Thomas Collins, Archbishop of the Dioceses of Toronto, also told the college that many physicians feared they would be “brought before human rights tribunals for following their consciences.” But he saw no reason why it would then be necessary for the college to add sanctions of its own. “Is that the cost of being true to one’s conscience?” he asked.

Sean Murphy of the Protection of Conscience Project, a group that tries to protect the rights of health workers, said the new document appears to be much improved from the original draft.

“It’s more clear in this document that the bogey man is the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” he said.

But he is concerned that one clause remaining in the policy could hurt doctors who exercise conscience.

It says the “college has its own expectations for physicians who limit their practice, refuse to accept individuals as patients, or end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of moral beliefs.”

He said this provision still needs to be clarified by officials.

National Post


We will not defy beliefs, doctors say
Regulator says patients should be told all options

Charles Lewis, National Post
Published: Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Ontario Medical Association wants the provincial licensing body to kill a proposal that would force physicians to put aside their religious beliefs when making decisions in their medical practice.

The controversial document by the College of Physicians and Surgeons Ontario, which will be voted on next week, warns doctors that the provincial Human Rights Commission will get more aggressive with those who appear to violate an individual’s right to get treatment. It also suggests doctors could face misconduct charges from the College for those human rights violations, something that does not exist now in the province or in any other part of Canada.

“The OMA is concerned that this draft policy may interfere with physicians’ existing rights and freedoms,” a statement said. “The OMA urges the College to abandon this [draft] policy.”

The OMA, which has 25,000 members, said the draft policy does not properly inform doctors that “their right to freedom of religion is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Among other things, the draft policy from the College said doctors will have to set aside personal beliefs “to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical services they require.” It also said doctors who restrict medical service based on moral or religious beliefs may contravene the Human Rights Code and could be committing professional misconduct.

“We believe it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious belief,” the OMA said in reply.

For example, doctors not only can refuse to prescribe birth control pills, but they also do not have to make a referral to someone who would or even discuss it as a viable option. The same thing might go for referring a patient for an abortion or helping a same-sex couple get fertility treatment.

Yesterday, Thomas Collins, Archbishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toronto, wrote to the College.

He said many doctors may have good reason to fear “they will be brought before human rights tribunals in our province for following their consciences. If so, the issues will be addressed at that time, case by case, and in any later appeals. I urge the College of Physicians and Surgeons to support a physician who seeks to follow his or her conscience …”

Archbishop Collins expressed concern the College would add sanctions of its own.

“If a physician cannot in conscience perform or facilitate an action that is requested, will that physician face the threat of being sanctioned for violating a patient’s human rights and for professional misconduct? Is that the cost of being true to one’s conscience?”

The draft policy will be voted on next week.

Dr. Preston Zuliani, president of the College, said yesterday that the draft policy has been revised to address the concerns of those doctors who are worried about their rights being violated though he could not reveal what those changes are.

“In our province, health care is provided by the government for the people and it’s funded by the taxpayer,” he said.

“And the OMA would take the position that the doctor has the right to withhold information about legitimate medical treatments that are available if the doctor disagrees with them.

“We would suggest that the doctor has an obligation to not withhold information about birth control and other treatments available. We are not saying that we would make the doctor make the referral.

“But in this province the expectation is that physicians will provide information to patients about all facets of their health care.

“We do not expect a physician to impose their religious beliefs on their patients. Let the patient make their own decision without the doctor having to make referral, but not to withhold any important information.”

Skirts ‘unsafe’ on ladders

September 19, 2008

Women’s steep climbs with only one hand free ‘terrifying,’ UPS manager tells rights hearing

Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM

A human resources manager was concerned for the safety of Muslim women she saw climbing steep ladders while holding their long skirts in one hand to reach their Toronto UPS work stations.

“It was terrifying. I wouldn’t want to do what they were doing. It caused me great concern,” Michelle Skabar told Canadian Human Rights Tribunal panel chair Karen Jensen yesterday.

“It didn’t comply with our documented safety training,” she told the hearing held at a Dixon Rd. hotel.

The women’s duties required them to move about on open metal staircases and steep ladders some six metres high in the UPS delivery plant.

Skabar’s concerns eventually sparked a risk hazard analysis that reviewed clothing requirements at the UPS site.

The eight devout Muslim women, all temporary workers, had flipped boxes upright on the conveyor-belt system for anywhere from a year to two years.

The women, who have arrived at the hearing every day in traditional ankle-length skirts, hijabs and neck scarves, have said their religion requires them to dress that way.

They have said that during the entire time they worked at UPS, they were never told their clothing posed a risk.

“There is no excuse. There was a gap in our process (at UPS). We’ve corrected that,” Skabar said yesterday.

The Muslim women were not told of safety regulations at the outset because of “a serious lack of staffing,” Skabar said. “So unfortunately, when they were hired they didn’t get that information.” New employees now receive safety training upon arrival, she told the hearing.

The Muslim women, who eventually lost their jobs, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of religion and gender.

Skabar said it was the first time in 15 years as a UPS employee that she had observed women in long skirts climbing up the steep ladders near a conveyor belt when she saw them in the early spring of 2005.

“Muslim or not, a long skirt would not be acceptable” doing those jobs, any more than baggy jeans worn low on the hips, a style popular with youth, Skabar said.

The eight women worked manoeuvring packages, some weighing up to 35 kilograms, on a conveyor belt to allow an overhead scanner to reads the bar code on the shipping labels, according to an agreed statement of facts.

Their temporary jobs became full-time union positions as a result of a collective bargaining pact reached in 2005. The women were told they would have to raise their skirts to knee length in the workplace for safety reasons in order to keep their jobs, Skabar testified.

The women refused to comply and their employment ceased on July 13, 2005.

Six of the women had brought UPS a letter from their mosque stating their religion required them to wear full-length skirts.

How Others Juggle Faith, Secularism

October 5, 2007

How others juggle faith, secularism.

Oct 04, 2007 04:30 AM

Haroon Siddiqui

Pilloried about his ill-advised proposal to extend public funding to all faith-based schools, John Tory noted that the separation of church and state is not as clear-cut in Canada as people assume.It is not in secular Europe either, or even in the United States, where the constitution prohibits mixing state and religion.Canada has always mixed the two, dating back to the 1867 British North America Act, which codified funding for Catholic and Protestant schools, plus linguistic guarantees for each, to shield them from the prejudices of the day.Yet Canada has ended up with a more secular political culture than the United States and, in some respects, Europe.The Church of England remains the official religion in Britain, even if as a hangover of history. The state has long funded Christian and Jewish, and, lately, Muslim schools. Commitment to the latter was not shaken by the 2005 subway bombings (the culprits came from public schools, not Islamic ones). If anything, there’s greater support for bringing more Muslim schools under public scrutiny.France, which lives by the strict separation of state and religion, has long funded Christian and Jewish schools. So has Holland.In Germany, the federal government uses the tax system to collect a levy for Catholic and Protestant churches, their denominational schools and cemeteries. The funding is about 18.5 billion euros a year.

Many Europeans still consider Europe a Christian, not a Christian-majority, continent.

That was the precise basis on which Cardinal Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict, opposed the entry of Muslim Turkey into the European Union. (It was a position he abandoned only last year, as a peace offering after having caused a furor in the Muslim world with a clumsy attack on Islam).

The idea of keeping Europe “Christian” was also partially behind the 2004 referendum defeat of the EU draft constitution in France and the Netherlands.

In the United States, politics and indeed public policy are increasingly driven by religion.

The Christian right influences government on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. But lobbying is part of the American system and is used by many groups, not just religious ones.

American politicians, including leading Democrats, routinely pander to fundamentalist Christians with God-talk. George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, wears his faith on his sleeve. Not much wrong with that either, except that, by his own admission, his policies are divinely guided: “I trust God speaks through me.” Asked whether he had consulted his father, the first President Bush, before invading Iraq, he said he had checked with a higher Father.

Post-9/11, Bush made “American rage theological,” as noted by British author Malise Ruthven. For many Americans, being patriotic has come to mean being Christian and, in some cases, anti-Muslim and anti-Islam, as seen in the tirades of Rev. Franklin Graham, pastor to Bush, and evangelist Pat Robertson and others.

Bush has also actively promoted funding for faith-based institutions to deliver social and other benefits.

In Canada, we have far from resolved all the tensions between church and state. But we have managed the balance better than others, and with far less hypocrisy.

We have less religiosity in public discourse and in policy, the only major anomaly being the funding to Catholic schools. That, too, is now up for debate – no longer a sacred cow, thanks to John Tory.


Haroon Siddiqui, the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday and SundayEmail:

Educational Ideas:

Examine the Constitutions of Various Countries for their ‘religion’ statements:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Teacher’s Guide – Fundamental Freedoms