RFI Senior Fellow Defends Religious Freedom of Canada’s Military Chaplains in House of Commons

June 16, 2023

On June 2nd, Father Deacon Andrew Bennett testified before Canada’s House of Commons, Standing Committee on National Defence regarding the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) chaplaincy (a theme he also addressed last month in writing). Bennett is an Ottawa-based senior fellow with RFI and a program director at Cardus. He was Canada’s first and only ambassador for religious freedom.

During his testimony, Bennett addressed some of the recommendations of Article 6 (“Re-defining Chaplaincy”) from last year’s report to Minister Anand. This report aimed to address social ills, such as sexism, in the CAF. Unfortunately, it also imperils the religious liberty of many chaplains. The report recommends that the CAF no longer employ chaplains of faith communities that refuse to recognize “same-sex marriage.” These recommendations would effectively exclude a large swath of chaplains currently serving in the CAF (to say nothing of the countless future chaplains such a policy would exclude going forward).

In his opening remarks, Bennett emphasizes that Canada is made up of a diverse citizenship, religiously and otherwise. The same can be said of the CAF. The men and women of the CAF need access to chaplains they can trust as they work through questions of ultimate truth and how to live faithfully in light of their religious convictions. Excluding certain religions from the CAF would marginalize many CAF service members and their families. 

It should also be acknowledged that chaplains in the CAF (and elsewhere) are often responsible for ministering to people from religious communities other than their own. Bennett remarked, “Chaplains have to be able to engage people of other faiths… They have to be able to engage them from their faith tradition out of love and concern and demonstrate genuine pastoral care.” 

Bennett continued, “To say, well, if you hold a particular view that is not in sync with a particular secular view, then you’re not qualified to be a chaplain, is very narrow-minded and [denies] the robust pluralism that we really should be advancing in our society and certainty within the CAF.”

In his formal statement before the Standing Committee, Bennett concluded:

[The religious freedom of chaplains] must not be unduly hindered, such as through a mandated requirement to adhere to a prevailing secular creed or to conform to a political ideology of any stripe. The essential work of Armed Forces Chaplains of all religious and philosophical traditions must be protected and encouraged, all the while upholding freedom of religion and conscience for chaplains and those whom they serve.

Watch the hearing here. Key segments include:

  • Bennett’s opening statement: 09:58:30 – 10:03:46
  • Bennett exchange with MP: 10:30:00 – 10:34:36
  • Bennett exchange with MP: 10:44:25 – 10:47:00
  • Bennett exchange with MP: 10:48:40 – 10:51:10