Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Should governments be allowed to ban outward expressions of faith like chadors or yarmulkes?

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council, in its Declaration on Religious Liberty, stated that "the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all people are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such ways that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her beliefs, whether privately or publicly" (DH 2).

The document addresses the role of governments in the area of the protection of human rights and promoting general conditions favorable to fostering religious life and the protection of the equality of citizens before the law. Any limitations on religious expression are to be based upon the narrow norm of public order: peace, safety, the violation of rights and the public morality. Religious life should always be accorded as much freedom as possible and restrained as little as possible, and then, only to avoid major disruptions of the civil order.

Throughout the Council documents, the faithful are reminded that the development of their consciences must be paramount; they are to pray constantly for all peoples to do everything they can to live the truth. For us, that truth is found in Christ, who by word, witness and example, in goodness and gentleness, taught us the respect and dignity of the free human person. So should our governments reflect this reality. The Council welcomed religious freedom in all its forms in many contemporary legal systems, but also deplored its infringement in many other countries.

We believe that it is Gods will that all the human family should respect the right to freedom of expression throughout our society.