Two Nations, Under God
The Canadian Charter from an American Perspective
As an American scholar of Religious Studies- as opposed to Theology- I am accustomed to studying religions and their various effects on society (positive and negative) from an objective point of view. I look at religion from a phenomenological approach and analyze how it came to be, why people continue to practice these ancient traditions, and what similarities each religion holds to one another. In American society, I particularly focus on the hypocrisy of the term ‘separation of church and state’– and how it holds little meaning in the American culture in which “IN GOD WE TRUST” is printed on all legal tender, and churches participating in political actions remain tax-exempt. From the pledge of allegiance, to the very laws we live by, religion (specifically Christianity) is sewn into the fabrics of America’s past, present, and future.
The reason I tend to focus on The United States of America (other than that is happens to be the nation of my birth) is its unique place in the religious community; the USA is able to claim separation of church and state as a founding principle of the nation while creating laws and governmental ideas that are distinctly contrary. This is different from nations that are either openly theocratic in nature or have a truly secular government. Canada, for example, is much more secular in nature- with the most recent government census surveys indicating that nearly 17% of Canadian citizens claim to be affiliated with no religion– this is compared to a miniscule 11-14% in America. It wasn’t until recently, however, that it was brought to my attention that the Canadian government actually recognizes a God. Though the United States of America is a highly Christian nation and it is obvious in our federal and state governments, our constitution remains a secular document that respects the right of all peoples to practice any or no religion; not all nations have this luxury.
Much like the Pledge of Allegiance in America, the Canadian anthem (O, Canada) was originally created without any religious acknowledgements or undertones. The official Canadian National Anthem, written in 1880, had no mention of a “God” in its original lyrics; through revisions and translations however- the words “God keep our land glorious and free!” were placed in the anthem and have remained there since its official Act of Parliament was signed into law making ‘O, Canada’ the country’s national anthem in 1980. The history of the Canadian anthem is strikingly similar to that of the American pledge of allegiance, which you can read more about here. The religious nature of ‘O, Canada’, though recognized by the federal government as a national anthem, is not unique to Canada in that it is not built into the actual constitution- it is simply an anthem for the nation. This is where the similarities end between the American and Canadian governmental recognition and acceptance of ends.
As you may already know, the country of Canada features another approach to the supernatural that is governmental in nature… In addition to the anthem, the Canadian government also features a preamble to the Canadian Constitution (or Charter)- that is universally accepted by the Canadian government as a document that guides the nation’s laws and constitutional guarantees- and recognizes Canadian subservience to a higher power. The preamble of the Canadian Charter states “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” which indicates the Canadian allegiance to ‘God’ and, because of this Charter provision, Canada is not necessarily guaranteed any secular liberties. This enables Canadian federal government to have the fluidity between government and church that the United States Constitution does not.
This fact regarding the presence of ‘God’ in the preamble of the Canadian Charter, though clearly well-known throughout the Canadian provinces, comes as a surprise to many secular activists in America and other nations who are used to a more subtle bridge between church and state. Because of this theism-laced political system in Canada, citizens (regardless of religious affiliation) are forced to endure not only the singing of a theist-based national song, but also Christian prayers before various federal events- including meetings for the creation of legislation. It is surprising to learn that though the people of Canada are less likely to be affiliated with a religious tradition than those in America, the governing body itself, in Canada, has a recognized deity that allows for the trampling of the rights to religious freedom of anybody who does not recognize the monotheistic Judeo-Christian God.
 Statistics Canada, Census of Population 2005. http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/demo30a-eng.htm