In a recent posting I came out in defence of the Ontario government's decision to allow the use of Sharia law in matters of divorce arbitration. I had argued that because it was being used anyway it was better for it to be regulated, therefore offering the protection of civil law to women who maybe victimized by men wishing to exploit Sharia in their favour. I had also pointed out that since we granted the right to people of Orthodox Jewish and Christian faiths it would be discriminatory not to give Muslims the same privilege.
Given the loud outcry against the decision, it was to be assumed that the government would probably respond in some manner or other. It was only a matter of them trying to figure out which move would cost them the least in political terms. Late last Sunday (September 11/05) Premier McGuinty announced the scrapping of the whole religious arbitration program.
This prompted an immediate outcry by the Jewish and Christian groups who currently utilize the system, and from Muslims who wished to implement the process. In the long run though this, from a political point of view, was the safest course of action. There would have been more of a likelihood of this coming back to haunt him if he had implemented it. The cross-societal backlash against Islam from both the left and the right makes the cancellation of the whole program easier for a lot of people to swallow.
An aspect of this story that has not received any airing by the press was brought up in a column in today's Globe and Mail by Rick Salutin. He brought up the issue of how this process fits into the concept of separation of Church and State. According to Mr. Salutin, this decision by the McGuinty government is a good thing because it represents a further distancing of secular governance from religion.
Mr. Salutin argues that the integration of the two is a bad thing because of the ways in which governments can use religion as a disguise for nationalistic rhetoric: doing something in the name of God is a blanket justification that doesn't require any other excuse or reason. This can also be used for social policy and other contentious issues.