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RFREEDOM-CANADA May-15-2012 (400 words) xxxi
Bishops: Canadians experience 'worrisome erosion' of religious rights
By Deborah Gyapong
Catholic News Service
OTTAWA, Ontario (CNS) -- Canadian religious groups are "experiencing a worrisome erosion" of freedom of conscience and religious freedom -- universal rights that face increasing threats around the world, said the Canadian bishops.
In a 12-page pastoral letter to all Canadians, the bishops said they "particularly want to address those members of the faithful who find themselves in difficult situations where they may be pressured to act against their religious faith or their conscience."
The bishops quoted Blessed John Paul II, saying the right to religious freedom is "the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights." They defended the right of religious believers to participate in the public square and explained that religious freedom is more than freedom of worship.
"Besides being free from external coercion, everyone must be able freely to exercise the right to choose, profess, disseminate, and practice his or her own religion," the bishops said. "This includes freedom for parents to educate their children in their religious convictions and to choose the schools which provide that formation.
The bishops urged the protection of rights of conscientious objection that are being undermined in Canada and other Western democracies. They also encouraged people to form their consciences in the light of objective truth and to resist, even to the point of suffering, any pressures to violate them.
In Canada, the bishops said, most of the conflicts concern legislation or regulations that involve human life or the traditional family. Among recent problems in Canada, they listed:
-- Colleges of physicians compelling doctors who refuse to perform abortions to refer patients to a doctor who will perform the procedure.
-- Pharmacists threatened if they refuse, on conscience grounds, to fill prescriptions for contraceptives or the morning-after pill.
-- Marriage commissioners in British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan who must perform same-sex marriages or resign.
"Those who will not cooperate with the requirements of an immoral law must be prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to uphold the truth and to bear the suffering that results," the bishops said, citing the martyrdom of St. Thomas More as an example.
They said that, worldwide, 75 percent of all religious persecution is directed at Christians. The letter cited the massacre of Coptic Christians in Egypt; church bombings in Nigeria; the interference of the Chinese government in church affairs; and the effects of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
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