Reader Mail: The struggle between Church & State is an old one in Canada

Reader Pongo reminds us of the Guibord Affair.

The struggle between Church and state goes a long way back in Canadian history, long before there were Human Rights Commissions. I refer you to the Guibord case of 1874. What follows is the text from a wikipedia entry.

The case centred on a man named Joseph Guibord, a member of the Institut Canadien, a liberal association that strived to limit the Catholic Church’s influence over the Quebec government, which was at that time significant. Hence, when Guibord died, the Church opted not to give him a religious burial. The Church’s decision allegedly contradicted its role under the civil law to give burial, but the Church argued it would carry out the burial anyway and that Guibord not being buried in holy ground was a question of religious freedom.

As Professor Rainer Knopff argues, the J.C.P.C. compromised between two decisions of the lower courts: that the religious freedom argument was frivolous on one hand; or that the courts, not being a Catholic leadership, could not rule on whether a burial should be carried out in accordance with religious procedure on the other. The J.C.P.C., conversely, concluded that while the courts were not Catholic leaders, they could uphold the people’s rights and Guibord was entitled to a burial in holy ground. However, the Court did not compel other religious ceremonies to be performed because it was not a Catholic institution. Although burial anywhere could theoretically be justified under the law, the J.C.P.C. ruled burial in holy ground was appropriate in this case and advised the other ceremonies to be performed. The reasoning was that if Guibord was not buried in holy ground, his reputation would be damaged. As Guibord was a good person, he should not be defamed while a terrible person, on the other hand, probably could be denied religious burial.

Following the court ruling, Ignace Bourget, the Bishop of Montreal, went to Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery and deconsecrated the burial plot where Joseph Guibord was to be buried. Twelve hundred soldiers were needed to escort Guibord’s body into the cemetery because of the angry mob gathered to oppose the burial.

More on Guibord here, here, here, & very good background here.

Some related reading albeit from an American perspective:

Origins and Dangers of the ‘Wall of Separation’ Between Church and State

“No metaphor in American letters has had a greater influence on law and policy than Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state.” For many Americans, this metaphor has supplanted the actual text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it has become the locus classicus of the notion that the First Amendment separated religion and the civil state, thereby mandating a strictly secular polity.”

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