Opinion Column

Valley Pulpit: Are we really glorious and free?

By John Vaudry, First Presbyterian Church Pembroke

John Vaudry is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pembroke.

John Vaudry is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pembroke.


For centuries, people in the western world have cherished their liberty. Our American neighbours have certainly stressed this aspect of a democratic society; they boast of being ‘the land of the free’ and the ‘sweet land of liberty.’

Canadians have also valued freedom, with our traditions going back to Magna Carta Libertatum (‘The Great Charter of Liberties’) in 1215. Christian belief, based on the Bible, is one of the key sources of this tradition. We sing about it, too: ‘God keep our land glorious and free.’ And if you read bumper stickers around Pembroke you’ll be reminded that ‘if you value your freedom’ you should ‘thank a veteran.’ This is the month when we especially commemorate the sacrifice made by so many in our Armed Forces to preserve our liberty.

Given all this, it may seem that anyone with the temerity to ask whether we are in the process of losing our precious freedom must be a wild-eyed extremist.

But many observers, including some who are very learned and rational, worry about the trend away from liberty in today’s world.

It seems that again and again government is legislating what we can and can’t do, and what we are allowed to say. We are grateful for so many of our laws and for the social safety net that tries to help the poor and vulnerable. But when it becomes a ‘nanny state’ intruding into almost every aspect of our lives, government goes too far. The ‘political correctness’ movement was intended, I think, to make us more sensitive to minorities (a good thing) but it has ended up practically persecuting other minorities for being different—conservative Christians particularly. Now, as Lawrence Solomon of the Financial Post says, political correctness has become ‘a cancer on our basic liberties of free speech and freedom of thought.’

To take what might seem a trivial example, a recent news item stated that Brock University in St. Catharines has created a list of ‘prohibited’ Halloween costumes that includes ‘ankle-length robes worn by Arab men, makeup depicting Japanese geishas’ and ‘anything with the Confederate flag on it.’ Students, it appears, aren’t allowed to be a bit provocative or wacky anymore.

A much more serious example concerns Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto. He has refused to new gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘Ze’ and ‘Zir’ instead of ‘he’ and ‘she.’ He cautions that Bill C-16 would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. This legislation is apparently based on unquestioning acceptance of the idea that gender is simply a social construct. Peterson maintains that the science is against this theory, and that there are definite differences between men and women, both biologically and psychologically.

Yet, the U of T has not supported him. Quite the contrary. He has been rebuked by the administration for expressing his views. Peterson claims that free speech is being drastically eroded on campus and that fellow professors are now fearful of saying anything that is not popular in society, even if they think it is true. Whatever happened to academic freedom?

The part that gets me is some students say that they don’t feel the university is a ‘safe space’ with people like Peterson taking stands they don’t agree with. Of course, universities and colleges should be safe from violence and sexual assault, but the whole purpose of an institution of higher learning is to promote the exchange of ideas, no matter how odd or outrageous they may seem.

When I attended university in the 1970s my campus was hardly a ‘safe place’ for evangelical Christians like me. Many of my cherished beliefs and values were challenged in class, in the student newspaper, in plays and films. I had to think, research and discuss in order to survive.

Are today’s students (and citizens generally) so fragile that they can’t handle new ideas and have to be protected by some sort of ‘thought police?’

Our society will be poorer if we suppress the free expression of ideas, but that seems the way we are headed. This could be very difficult for Jews, Muslims and traditional Christians, particularly evangelicals and Roman Catholics, whose views on abortion, same-sex marriage, ‘assisted dying’ and a number of other issues do not conform to the views of the majority. Will we be labelled as purveyors of ‘hate speech’ and silenced?

May God raise up many in our time who will have the courage to defend freedom…before it’s too late.

John Vaudry is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pembroke