Monday, September 12, 2005

Faith-Based Arbitration in Ontario

Angry in the Great White North wrote:
"Since 1991, Jewish and Christian arbiters could make decisions guided by the principles of their faiths under the auspices of the Ontario family court system.

This did not seem to generate too much controversy, but when the recommendation came down to extend that to include Islamic principles, the sharia hit the fan:

Canada, like just about all Western liberal democracies, is a Judeo-Christian society, and that is reflected in the legal and political system...while Jewish and Christian faith-based arbitration are fundamentally consistent with the legal system in Ontario, Islamic arbitration is fundamentally inconsistent."
I suspect much of the reason it didn't create too much controversy was because most people didn't know, not because Jewish and Christian faith-based arbitration mirrors secular law. There was a lot happening during the NDP reign, and the media were generally onside with their socialist principles. They wouldn't have raised a fuss, which is the only way the public would've found out.

I believe that no religion has a place in the law. How do we know Judeo-Christian faith-based arbitration is fundamentally consistent with common law when we have no idea of their outcomes? All we have to go on as a guide are the traditions of those religious communities that use this type of arbitration.

Depending on the ethnic community, uppity catholic women (meaning those who make their own independent decisions) are slapped around by their male relatives to keep them in line, and this is considered OK and required. The Catholic Church considers only marriages conducted in the catholic church as valid and treats them accordingly, although it depends on the parish as well. And where goes the church, so goes the family. The Church will also grant annulments if given enough time and money, no matter how obvious it is that the marriage was consummated. There is no consistency. I should say though that at least the Catholic Church has tried to head off the rising divorce rate with preventive pre-marital and during-marriage workshops.

While our laws were being amended to take women's rights into account in the 1970s, fundamentalist Christians had no problem telling teenage girls and women that they were to be quiet and to defer to their betters, men. I know a couple of women who were traumatized by such treatment. Not much has changed in some of these churches.

Meanwhile, only Jewish men have the authority to grant a get (religious divorce); they can and do wield that power against their wives. Not much has changed there either since the time of Deuteronomy (see 24:1-4) when only the man could issue a certificate of divorce. Two thousand years ago, Jesus knew how much this sucked for women (Matthew 19:3-9) and said it was wrong. Anat Zuria filmed the documentary Sentenced to Marriage about the way Rabbinical Courts can abuse a woman seeking a divorce by unfairly favouring her husband. This occurs in Israel, but when the same religious principles are used in family disputes, do you really think abuse does not and has not happened here?

As long as women are treated as second-class citizens in the faith life of most religions (the only exception being Zoroastrianism), there is no equality in religious arbitration.

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