When Conscience Is Attacked, the Ground Beneath Us Shakes

October 15, 2021

Brian Bird, an assistant professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia and RFI Research Fellow, recently published an article in Public Discourse titled, “When Conscience Is Attacked, the Ground Beneath Us Shakes.” Bird writes:

…making normative sense of the world and striving to live accordingly, is an essential part of being human. We all have a conscience: an inner radar that alerts us to right and wrong action. And we all wish to have the freedom to stand on our core convictions…

“Yet,” Bird argues, this is the crux of the matter:

[D]espite the value that all of us place on being free to follow our conscience, especially when we find ourselves in ethical minefields, this human right has been paid scant attention by courts and legislatures. Perhaps all of us, to varying degrees, have taken it for granted.

Reflecting on recent cases and controversies in Canada, Bird points to alarming examples of using state power to suppress individual and institutional conscience. However, Bird also invites readers to consider sources of this problem that go far beyond government.

In addition to making changes to law and policy, we also need a change of mindset. Frankly, without interior change, any action in the realm of law and policy will do little to improve matters. A change of hearts and minds is required because there has been a tectonic shift in how we handle ideological collisions. Whereas the starting point was once a sturdy form of tolerance, of live and let live, this principle is fading. Tolerance, once widely recognized as an essential element of free and democratic societies, has become a dirty word.

Read the full article: When Conscience Is Attacked, the Ground Beneath Us Shakes.