Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion (Guest commentary)

Planning a holiday party? Keep it voluntary and inoffensive
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/16/2008

The concept of freedom of religion, which is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as in federal and provincial human rights legislation, also includes the concept of freedom from religion. In Canada, we generally recognize that people should have the right to practice their religion freely as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Inherent in freedom of religion is the idea people are free to practise religion in a very limited way — or not at all.

Those with little or no religious affiliation are often classified as atheists, agnostics or secular humanists. An atheist believes there is no God. An agnostic believes we are unable to know whether or not there is a God. Some people who call themselves agnostics actually do believe in some kind of a God, but they feel we are unable to determine the exact form of that God, or which religion is in fact the “right” one. Secular humanists live a religion-free way of life guided by reason and scientific inquiry. Followers of secular humanism are motivated by ethics, compassion and fairness, and specifically reject the supernatural and the spiritual.

It is important to remember, however, religion usually has a cultural component, and is often related to a person’s ethnic background and heritage. Even non-religious people often want to participate in traditions of a religious or quasi-religious nature. For example, many atheists with Christian backgrounds still celebrate Christmas and Easter with their families even though, for them, those holidays have lost their religious significance. Likewise, secular Jews will often take time to celebrate Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Hanukkah. Religious holidays are often seen as important times for families to be together, even for people with limited or no formal religious affiliation.