The Phoenix (University of British Columbia — Okanagan)
KELOWNA (CUP) — In early January 2014, York University accepted and endorsed gender intolerance for the sake of religious toleration.
A male student requested that he not have to work with women on a group project because it violated his religious beliefs. The professor disagreed and made the call that the student should not be able to make that demand. The dean, instead, believed that the appeal was valid and granted the student’s request.
York has become a case study of the delicate balance between equality and religious tolerance.
We exist in an era where multiculturalism is both commonplace and necessary. With multiculturalism comes the necessity for understanding and empathizing towards differing belief structures, social strata and diverse traditions. Canada is a place that celebrates differences and has nurtured a secular platform upon which our country is based.
As a society uneasy with our turbulent past, we are prone to please those we have wronged. This instinct is just and earnest but in this specific case we cannot accept the marginalization of women in favor of religious beliefs. Human rights are supposed to take precedent over everything else.
We have to accept that some social structures are a progressive improvement even though we have so closely tied liberal democracies to Western society and imperialism. Equality between gender and race is simply better. That value isn’t another form of colonialism; it’s simply respect for our own humanity.
As Canadians, we are privileged enough to be able to consider these issues in detail due to our insistence on public education to foster a stronger and more robust society.
If we are to follow York University’s precedent, should we accept and charter private schools that refuse to admit women or people of color? Furthermore, do we accept the prejudices of certain socially conservative sectors that feel the need to refuse rights to LGBT couples? Of course not; prejudice is prejudice, even if it is contained within specific — and sometimes idiosyncratic — religious beliefs.
On Jan. 17, 2014, The Globe and Mail quoted a former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who said, “There’s a danger in a country that absorbs immigrants at the rate we do that if you don’t have a set of norms, a set of stories about yourself, the kind of myths and narratives that create a national identity, that you cease to be a nation.”
Putting extreme nationalism aside, let’s accept that part of our Canadian narrative is acceptance and empathy towards all shapes, sizes, colours, races or creeds — and in the case of York, we need to be firm about that.
Sometimes true equality requires a social and cultural force. Human rights are the foundation of our society, so we cannot allow intolerance to hollow out the core of compulsory tolerance.
Equality is not a natural state in our world — which is unfortunate — but that means it is a unifying and worthwhile value that must be vehemently defended.
Graphic: Chynna Howard/The Phoenix