Here’s an interesting legal connundrum:
David Little, who has spent the last few years moving back and forth between P.E.I. and New Brunswick, has refused to file tax returns since 2000 in protest of government-funded abortions. He was due in court in Fredericton this week to face a charge of refusing a court order to file them. Little was found guilty in 2007 on three counts of failing to file, and eventually was sentenced to 66 days in jail for refusing to pay the $3,000 fine. He believes it’s his religious right to refuse to pay taxes because he doesn’t want his money funding abortions.
Oh… wait… did I say “interesting”? I meant “stupid”. There is no such right enshrined in the Canadian Charter allowing you not to pay taxes for things you don’t believe in. Freedom of religion and belief is what is termed a ‘positive right’, meaning that you have the ability to pursue it, and that nobody has the right to bar you from such pursuit. It does not encompass the right to exempt yourself from civic obligations because you don’t like them.
For example, it would be permissible for Mr. Little to post anti-abortion tracts on public notice boards, or picket abortion clinics. He could even start a blog and talk himself to death about how abortion is murder. If Mr. Little were a private medical practitioner, he could refuse to perform abortions (doctors are considered contractors to the state, not employees of the state, and therefore are not required to provide any services they don’t want to). All of the above actions are perfectly legal expressions of Mr. Little’s religious objection to abortion (although the Bible says nothing about abortion, and equating it with murder means that he must also refuse to pay taxes to support the military).
Refusing to pay taxes, however, is neither legal nor smart. However, the Canada Revenue Agency recognizes that pursuing him for the money may be legal, but it has ceased to be smart:
“You can only beat a dead horse so long, and then the whip starts to fray,” [Federal prosecutor Keith] Ward told CBC News Monday. Not only are the taxpayers of Canada insulted once by having to pay all this money to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada on what is a lark of Mr. Little’s, but now they’re going to be faced with it again.”
It also turns out that Mr. Little doesn’t have the money to pay the fine anyway, so the thing is a moot point.
The part of this story that is interesting, however, is the abuse of “freedom of religion” as an excuse for all kinds of things. Many on the right talk about their “freedom of religion” being infringed upon because public schools teach the reality that homosexuality isn’t an abomination; merely a personal trait like hair or eye colour. These same people invoke “freedom of religion” when talking about the rights to gay marriage, sex education, or abortion. Having the freedom to believe in your own religion doesn’t mean you exist in a bubble where no opposing ideas are allowed in, or that you have the right to impose your personal beliefs on anyone besides yourself. It definitely doesn’t mean you have the right to cut your children off from hearing any information you don’t like. What it does mean is that you can express your objection, teach your kids what your beliefs are, and allow them the opportunity to decide for themselves.
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