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Religion in the Canadian Forces & in Canadian Society

McG

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BeyondTheNow said:
... there’s still a very problematic bigger picture forming here and it can affect components some people haven’t even thought of. A quick example?  Let’s look at the band. (yes, yes, I’m well aware some don’t give two shits about the band—anywhere—not the point.) It’s steeped in tradition and purpose and has its place among all types of services, ceremonies and parades alike and always has. But the majority of pers aren’t aware of just how many of their Regimental pieces and marches are directly taken from hymns--either in their entirety or mere excerpts. The majority of the tunes are wholly religious, mostly taken from Christian British composers throughout history. So in the spirit of what’s been expressed by some here, it’s important we do away with them completely—there’s no place for any type of Christian affiliation among CAF tradition in any form, right? 
There's one of those slippery slopes. Nobody is stretching the argument to say that things with long lost religious origins should be thrown away. That's a strawman. You can't defend any need for compelling the members of the regiment to go be lectured on Jesus, so you make the argument about something else. You make it about something nonsensical that is easy to dismiss.  But the nonsensical strawman is not what this is about.

Wearing military uniforms is fine.
Maintaining old regimental marches is fine.
Attending funerals is fine.
Attending public ceremonies with religious/cultural injects that reflect participating audiences is fine.
Compelling the members of a regiment to attend a church for the purpose of observing a Christian religious service is not fine.
Compelling the members of a regiment to attend a mosque for the purpose of observing an Islamic religious service is not fine.
 

Kirkhill

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https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/11956555/The_Abolition_of_Compulsory_Church_Parades_in_the_British_Army.pdf

The compulsory church parade was one of the oldest traditions in the British army, dating back to the
seventeenth century. In 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, the practice was abolished.

This was a significant moment in Army–Church relations since the compulsory attendance of soldiers at
divine worship had been an official acknowledgement of the importance of religion as a guiding force in the
corporate life of the army. This article explores the background to this historic decision and the unsuccessful
efforts of senior officers in the late 1940s to restore the ritual.

In the name of Christ, can't we move on?

 

BeyondTheNow

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MCG said:
There's one of those slippery slopes. Nobody is stretching the argument to say that things with long lost religious origins should be thrown away. That's a strawman. You can't defend any need for compelling the members of the regiment to go be lectured on Jesus, so you make the argument about something else. You make it about something nonsensical that is easy to dismiss.  But the nonsensical strawman is not what this is about.

Wearing military uniforms is fine.
Maintaining old regimental marches is fine.
Attending funerals is fine.
Attending public ceremonies with religious/cultural injects that reflect participating audiences is fine.
Compelling the members of a regiment to attend a church for the purpose of observing a Christian religious service is not fine.
Compelling the members of a regiment to attend a mosque for the purpose of observing an Islamic religious service is not fine.

Second paragraph agreed. Wholeheartedly. (But I’ll again reiterate a point raised by multiple users that in conjunction with members not being forced to attend, then CAF also can’t force members NOT to attend.)

Ref the “strawman”—Unfortunately mankind has a pretty lengthy history of anecdotal evidence during various scenarios where situations of what many initially thought were implausible and largely ridiculous circumstances ended up staring them right in the face, even military/defence related—Simple policy issues to full-out combat specific. So I haven’t much faith in humanity’s ability to know when to draw the line in some instances. If the right (or wrong) people get into a position of power, can push their agendas, and they have the support of many, and/or are surrounded by those who don’t check them, then all too often trying to undo the damage once they’re through is almost impossible. (But I digress—this could easily turn into a politics thread.)

My point is simple; we all do it, or we don’t. This is a position that should’ve been properly weighed then executed equally if all were in agreement across the board. And has been clearly mentioned, CAF can’t show support for some religious practices and not others. Especially, again, when it’s only one part of CAF choosing to do something very visibly (and questionable by CAF and outsiders alike) on their own, then leaving the individual units to conduct clean-up and take the hits of negative press and instances of community discourse.
 

mariomike

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I like where the Chaplain asks the men, "Was this trip necessary?"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrnB1OMhETI
 

FJAG

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That raised an interesting memory.  Many years ago, when still with the artillery (early 1970s while Vietnam was still a thing), I signed up for the US Army Advanced Artillery Officer's extension course. Every week or so I would receive a package in the mail from Fort Sill providing me with another study module. One of those was on the US Army Chaplain Corps and the left me with the clear impression that one of the major purposes of the Corps was to instill the will to fight as much as it was to bring God to the soldier. I think that has been toned down a bit but my impression at the time was that the Corps was just one of the tools that a Commander had at his disposal to advance the mission.

:cheers:
 

mariomike

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FJAG said:
One of those was on the US Army Chaplain Corps and the left me with the clear impression that one of the major purposes of the Corps was to instill the will to fight as much as it was to bring God to the soldier. I think that has been toned down a bit but my impression at the time was that the Corps was just one of the tools that a Commander had at his disposal to advance the mission.

:cheers:

That was always my impression. Above all else, keep the wheels rolling.

Since the title of this discussion is "& in Canadian Society", where I worked they always had a departmental Chaplain. Still do, but a lot of the pep talks have been taken over by the staff psychologist since the early 1980's.

Seemed to me the only difference was one gave you a cigarette, the other gave you a cookie.  :)
 

RocketScientist

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Jarnhamar said:
I've seen sikh's wearing turbans and if I remember correctly jewish people wearing kippah's at church and no one made a big deal about it.
I've seen the same at a Mosque. In fact, I was the tour guide for a Jewish group when we held an "open house" in a Mosque in Toronto after the Quebec mosque shooting. Many of them kept their kippahs on. You would be required to take your shoes off ONLY in the areas where people pray, since the Islamic prayer involves touching your head to the floor. I'm sure you, too, wouldn't touch your face where someone else stood with their dirty shoes.

Forget about taking shoes off, would a female soldier have to enter a mosque through a side door and cover their head like the 3 female MP's who accompanied the prime minister on his visit to a mosque have to do?
Everyone would be required to dress modestly, but covering the head would be optional. Again, we regularly entertain women at Mosques who do not don headwear. The PM's companions probably did so out of respect and/r for the public outreach.

I feel like churches have become pretty open to other religions and atheists alike. I'm not so sure the same can be said for mosques yet. (of course maybe I'm wrong)
Sir, I invite you to visit your local Mosque with your family and friends at your earliest convenience (once COVID dies out). We would be happy to have you and clear up your misunderstandigs. Here's a tip: show up on a Friday night and you'll get probably get a free meal out of it. Hope you can handle your spicy Biryani!
 

daftandbarmy

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ACE_Engineer said:
Here's a tip: show up on a Friday night and you'll get probably get a free meal out of it. Hope you can handle your spicy Biryani!

Two thumbs up to that! Great food, and very welcoming people...  :nod:
 

tonykeene

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This has been a fraught topic throughout the four decades plus of my service, and also my children's time as Cadets.  I think the simplest takeaway I have now, in retirement, is that in this country every single individual has the right and freedom to decide what they will, or will not do as regards religious observance.
This then collides head-on with the military need for unit cohesion and discipline.  This is especially true in the army, and in particular in combat arms units, all of which seem to have some sort of connection, official or otherwise, to a Christian church.  In 2017 I watched as my old regiment was marched into an Anglican church under command, there to sing "Onward Christian Soldiers!" beneath the gaze of their pace-stick toting NCOs.  It's very hard to believe this was completely free of coercion.
The practice of compulsory divine worship in our forces actually stems from Napoleonic times, when the Duke of Wellington (who was also a firm supporter of corporal punishment) mandated imposed religion on his troops as a disciplinary measure.  He wanted his men to be afraid of three things:  The lash, Hellfire and himself.
Oddly, centuries later, I still was able to detect a faint whiff of this attitude among senior officers (and some junior ones) whenever I challenged the idea of a compulsory religious observance.
(A note here:  This isn't just about formal church services and parades, but the inclusion of prayer into otherwise secular events such as the change of command of a unit, opening of a new building, unveiling of a plaque etc.  You go there to take part in what is not supposed to be about religion, but they call on the padre anyway and often the command to remove headdress is given.  Even though it is no longer compulsory, it is intimidating.)
When I was in Bosnia (I did four tours) our British colleagues sent out an invitation to all troops in the multinational division to attend a Remerbrance Day service.  The invitation specifically stated that this was a Christian religious service for Remembrance Day, and of course attendance was not, repeat NOT, compulsory.  That same afternoon the Canadian HQ sent out a notice that "All Canadian Pers Will Attend."  It was bold face and underlined.
Now, QR&O has for a very long time stated that CF members cannot be forced to attend religious services against their will or beliefs.  Yet here it was, in the first decade of the 21st Century.
I pointed this out to the junior officer in the HQ who had sent out this memo, and was told that I should prepare myself for a court martial.  No kidding.
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and an amending memo was sent out making attendance voluntary.
The problem here is that even if a religious ceremony is described as voluntary, persons in authority often take it upon themselves to unofficially ensure a good turnout.  I've witnessed this personally many times, not only in the Reserves, but at Cadet Summer Training Centres.  I personally have seen kids in Cadets threatened with extra drill and work, I have heard them being derided and sneered at, essentially to make sure they didn't stand aside from the church parade.  And I kid you not.  (My complaints about this resulted in a decade-long campaign of character-assassination, threats and intimidation, including a rather strained interview with the MPs in a very small room.  Simply because I asked why my kids were threatened into going to church.)
The commanding officer at Trenton actually decided one year that Cadets who chose not to attend Sunday worship were to be formed up in a body, marched off the site and held under guard in a modular tent "so as not to disturb the church services in progress."  At least he didn't have their buttons ripped off "a la Dreyfus".
It is almost impossible to hold an event in the military without pressure being put on people to attend and take part.  It's certainly hard-wired into the army mindset, if not others.  There also seems to be a belief that a white person, with an AngloSaxon name, could not really be anything but a Christian, and my experience has been that, upon stating my preference, I was invariably and immediately challenged, scoffed and sneered at, and derided.
A Canadian soldier does not have a religion, any more than he, or she, has a skin colour, ethnicity or sexual orientation.  Military service should have nothing to do with any of those things.
I realize all these things have great meaning for a lot of people, and that changes like this can be confusing and cause pain.  Laying up of Colours in Christian churches, traditional ceremonies like Copper Sunday etc.  We must find ways to change the substance of these traditions, without losing their meaning, that of loyalty, service and duty, and the conection to history
As  a retired old soldier, and as a Canadian, I know we can do it.
Thank you all for caring, and taking part. 
 

Kilted

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I disagree with you on a number of things. First, religion is significantly different then skin colour, you can't choose your skin colour and you can't change it. Religion for many people is part of what sets their ethics. The Canadian Forces ethos even admit that our ethics are based on Judeo-Christian values, as are most western laws. For many people, of many faiths, their military service is a lower priority then their beliefs. Some of the stories you give are very outdated. In the current environment of acomodation there is no way that someone would be forced to attend something of a religious nature. It is also not solely Christian customs that are observed. The Toronto Scottish recently had a parade at a Hindu temple. Traditions are traditions for a reason, we live in a society that has many religions, we can not remove all traces of religion from everything over fear of offending someone. I realize that this is the way things are heading. The joke use to be "what are they going to do, take Christmas from me?" Might actually come true one day. 
 

tonykeene

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I assure you they are not outdated.  YouTube contains videos from two years ago or later of such units as The Black Watch and others laying their Colours on a Christian altar after marching in "by the numbers" under command.  Even if this were completely voluntary (which is not as I delineate above, with peer pressure and veiled threats and the fear of ostracism) it has another very deleterious effect.
As the Forces try harder and ever harder to recruit from different faith communities, these public displays of official Christianity give the lie to those efforts.  Anyone seeing an entire regiment marching into a cathedral could be forgiven for assuming that at least token obeisance is a required part of service.
I agree that religion can be changed as a matter of personal choice, and it often is.  You can't change your skin colour but you can change your religion.  These days of course you can also change your gender, but that's another discussion.
But in Canada today the highest law of the land says that race, religion, gender, ethnicity and so on are in fact equal, and must be dealt with equally.  Whether we think they are or not, the law is the law.
No commanding officer today would dare hold an event only for the males in the unit, or only for the white members.  Holding an event just for adherents of a faith is equally wrong and should be called out as such.  My suggestion is that events like this should be bottom up.  That is, members of a faith group should be able to organize an event for members of their faith, with support from command and the chaplains.
When it is command orginated and directed, it can very easily veer off into coercion, as I know all too well from many personal experiences.
Last year I attended a decoration day event at a local cemetery, something which the air cadet squadron there takes part in.  Prior to the event I specifically inquired about whether it was a religious event, and whether the cadets themselves had been told about any religious content.
I was assured by the commanding officer that it was not religious and that therefore all cadets should be willing to attend.
I recorded the entire ceremony.  It was 25 minutes of prayers, hymns, blessing and Bible readings, including a full blown sermon about Christ.  The kids were subjected to this while on parade under the command of their officers.
This is NOT what the Cadet Program is supposed to be.  And believe me, as I wrote in my earlier post, reserve regiments still do these things and will continue to do these things as long as they can get away with it.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015 is binding, on ALL governments and governmental agencies.  That includes the military.
No matter which side of this discussion we come down on, eventually the law will trump tradition.  I just hope we can find a way to work through it without hurting people, or the organization.
Thank you for talking about it.
 

mariomike

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I didn't mind Church Parade. I felt it improved unit solidarity.

We have our municipal department's chaplain. He's an active member of our organization.



 

FJAG

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I'm with you on this, tonykeene.

My first exposure to the process was in 1966 with the old Toronto Garrison annual church parade which would march everyone to Queen's Park for a religious service. We had two, and only two, choices: Roman Catholic or Protestant. My young Jewish buddy thought the Catholic one would be better because there was less singing and he got to kneel for a while.

Back in the 60s the Army was still a predominantly white, Christian organization and while change has been slow in coming, change nonetheless there has been and we are becoming a more multi-cultural organization. I've always seen the benefits that a padre can bring to an organization through private counselling etc and while most that I've been in contact with have done a very good job of ministering to all faiths (and for that matter, the faithless), I do wonder if we wouldn't be better off to have a secular counselling service which would truly be egalitarian and equally accessible to all. Too many ignore the padre system because of it's religious overtones but who could well use a professional counselling serice.

I've been following the issue in the US military where the bias of the leadership to fostering coerced spirituality is much more overt than here. Particularly rankling to me is their argument that their blatant proselytising isn't an attack by them on the 1st Amendment rights of their subordinates but that limiting their doing so is an attack on their own personal 1st Amendment rights to spread their faith.

At least in Canada, most of the issues we have are because we thoughtlessly follow the old format for activities with the proforma prayers etc without truly thinking about what we are doing and whether or not it's time to put a stop to it. What really is the purpose of a prayer before a meeting, regardless of which faith it's expressed in? or whether it's given by three different padres? Someone will always be left out. Faith, or a rejection of faith, should be left to the individual to follow in his own ways. A moment of silence could easily replace a moment of religion during an activity. For that matter is even that necessary? Colours could be laid up in regimental or other museums or in Federal institutions. There are any number of ways that we can de-religionize the CF, if we put our minds to it.

For Kilted.

What purpose is served by exchanging one religious service for another like the Tor Scots going to a Hindu temple? While teaching tolerance of other people's faiths, that's not part of the military's mission statement. Just because many of our ethical standards have some of their roots in the Judeo-Christian faith does not mean we have to keep following that faith because the same ethical standards grew in other non Judeo-Christian cultures as well.

I personally think that the military's recognizing aboriginal customs in ceremonies is a positive step BUT we should do so without incorporating aboriginal spirituality into the process. I've thought a little as well about the heritage of our Highland units and those named after British/Canadian royalty and wondered whether we'd be prepared these days to form an Indo-Canadian regiment in Ontario or BC which could be a substantial recruiting draw. Highland units originally were formed to capitalize on recruiting from the large Scottish immigrant communities at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. While still following highland customs and traditions they are no longer an assembly of Presbyterians or Catholics. Why couldn't an Indo-Canadian unit be the one that incorporates Indo-Canadian traditions and customs without the spirituality element? That said, I would presume the country's Judeo-Christian collective conscience would balk at such a concept. And that's too bad.

I don't think that tonykeene is saying that we "remove all traces of religion from everything over fear of offending someone". What he is suggesting is that everyone follow whatever faith they want, but that as an institution, the CF be truly secular and not just pretend to be so by removing all vestiges of religion from its activities because they are unnecessary embellishments that are being thoughtlessly perpetuated. Instead, we should focus on our non-religious "traditions, without losing their meaning, that of loyalty, service and duty, and the connection to history".

:cheers:
 

tonykeene

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Thank you.  I'd like to see the Forces follow the same rules as Service Canada, or any other governmental organization.  That is, stop concerning itself with the religion of its members and simply provide staff and facilities for those who wished to do it.

If a manager at any other government department called for prayer or blessing at the start of a meeting or conference, it would hit the fan very quickly.  If my local Service Canada office decided to formally ally itself with the local Anglican Church, ditto.  Yet a reserve unit CO can do it and the general response is: "Oh that's nice.  It's tradition!"

In 2017 we held a parade ceremony in my community for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge.  The opening was three Christian prayers by three padres, and the ceremony itself was 25 minutes of blessings, Bible readings and a sermon, followed by a benediction at the end.  The only people who actually said anything about Vimy Ridge were the mayor and the MPP.  When I questioned the military and civilian organizers, the answer I got was something along the lines that all those men who went up the ridge that morning were Christians, and besides which, it was Easter Sunday!!

The present chaplain general has spoken now at two Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa.  While his remarks were emotional and filled with meaning, he made no mention of any religion or god.  He made it so that every single person there felt included.

That is as it should be.

It is interesting that in my four decades of service, the padres I have spoken with have almost always agreed with me.  It is the command chain that insists compulsory religion is necessary.  That's because it is, along with the military justice system, mainly a disciplinary tool.  It is intended to enforce unit cohesion and conformity.

Hearken as I prophesy.  One of these days some reserve or Cadet CO is going to pull one of these stunts and someone is going to get a lawyer and go to the Human Right Commission.  Since the Supreme Court of Canada has already issued a binding ruling, that will be game over.

Hasten the day.
 

Ostrozac

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I have to admit, this all seems rather odd to me. I spent 8 years serving in all three regular battalions of The RCR, and since then have been warming chairs in various headquarters, and at no time during that service did I attend any sort of military religious service in a place of worship. The only officially religious things I have seen are quite minor in their scope — prayer/grace at formal dinners, funerals, and Remembrance Day services.

People are still doing church parades? Really?
 

tonykeene

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Yes, it's interesting that some people can spend their entire career and never run into it.  But for others it becomes a real problem.  It depends on your CO's feelings and how it plays out.

In 2006 I watched absolutely aghast as the CO of the Ceremonial Guard in Ottawa threw several soldiers off parade in the Cartier Square Drill Hall because they did not wish to pray with him.  He stood with his arm extended toward the door as they were required to walk away from their unit, their Colours and their fellow soldiers simply because, as Canadians, they did not wish to take part in a government-imposed worship service.

Not only were they thrown off parade, they were thrown right out of the building.

I find this appalling. 
 
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