The Spiritual Spectrum: Religion, Law and Limits



Imagine one of your friends or colleagues starts to act out regularly. Just acting obnoxious in general, really rude, really abrasive. So much so that you have a public falling out, your entire circle no longer wants to be around this person. And just when you think  they're out of your life, they take you to court for excluding them.

Something very similar happened to a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses when they made the decision to excommunicate Randy Wall. In April 2017, Randy Wall requested a review of this decision by the Alberta court.  By November, Wall’s former congregation appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds that the Alberta courts did not have the jurisdiction to hear Wall’s initial case back in April.

These two cases by the Alberta and Supreme Court of Canada have raised a bit of controversy over the involvement of the court in day to day life.  Some are calling for a proper separation of church and state within Canada. When the Supreme Court made the decision to review the Alberta case hearings, an opinion piece was published in the National Post by one Barry Bussey, titled ‘Courts have no business reviewing religious decisions’.

Bussey ended his article with a clear statement against such actions. That quote reads “the law need not apply to every nook and cranny of our lives, especially religious affairs.”

So how involved is the canadian government with religious affairs? What would it look like if the law and courts never touched anything remotely religious? Is there a need for more separation of church and state in Canada?

It’s worth mentioning that Canadian Law does have some advantages for religious organizations, like tax exemption through charitable status, protection from discrimination, and the need for schools and workplaces to accommodate religious needs.

The discussion around this could go in many directions, considering how personal a topic religion is and how intense political values are as well.


ABCA. Wall v Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. 8 Sept.2016,

This is the citation for the court case of Wall v Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Alberta. The opinion piece that the episode will respond to draws on this court case, as well as an upcoming Supreme Court of Canada hearing. This is a popular source, and it documents the major events of the case in the order that they occurred. 


Allen, Marry. “Police-Reported Hate Crime in Canada, 2013.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, Statistics Canada, 30 Nov. 2015,

This is a statistics report on hate crimes in Canada. It is a popular government source. The episode will discuss the way in which the Canadian government regulates religious practices, and begins with the notion that “the government is too involved”. This statistic, as well as other information on how discrimination laws are used, will serve as evidence for another view point, in that the Canadian government is only involved when it is necessary. For example, in a situation where a citizen must prove in court that they were being discriminated against based on their religion.


Berger, Benjamin L. “Religious Diversity, Education, and the ‘Crisis’ in State Neutrality.”Canadian Journal of Law and Society / Revue Canadienne , vol. 29, no. 01, 2013, pp. 103–122., doi:10.1017/cls.2013.56.

This is a scholarly, peer reviewed source that discusses religion and education in Canada through several specific cases. The relation to the episode is that is contains an in-depth and easy to understand explanation of why catholic schools are still funded by the government while other religious minority schools are not. Or at least, the argument that was used.


Ewing , Heidi and Rachel Grady, directors. One of Us. Netflix , Netflix , 20 Oct. 2017.

This is the citation for a documentary on the Hasidic community in New York. It is a popular source. The documentary highlights a situation where the Hasidic community has its own niche judicial system within the legal system of New York, allowing them to hold hearings in a way that emphasizes their religious beliefs. Because the episode is about the law and religion, this is a perfect example of what the separation of church and state does not look like, despite the fact that generally speaking the US government is separate from any religious body.


Landau, Richard M. “Toward a Definition of Legitimate Religions.” Ontario Human Rights Commission,

This article is from the summer 2012  issue of the magazine Diversity, which I was only about to cite from the Ontario Human Rights Commission website. It outline the hallmarks of genuine religions, as best as the government can discern. It also sheds some light on how a group that claims to be a religion might not be recognized by the Canadian government and granted certain rights that most mainstream religions have in Canada. It also mentions two famous cults, which hints at the violent impact of some radical belief systems on the way governments have to operate in such a sensitive area as faith. This episode is about the limits of religious freedoms, or what they should be (subject to opinion), so it is imperative that safety and legitimacy of any organization is easy to discern for the discussion. This source is secondary as it draws on the authors experience with religions, government regulations of faiths and general knowledge of universal human rights. It is also a popular source.


“Policy on Preventing Discrimination Based on Creed.” Ontario Human Rights Commission,

This web article outlines the religious rights of people living in Ontario which are provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code. It contains practical information for understanding how public spaces must accommodate certain practices, how to identify discrimination from a legal standpoint and exceptions to the rule. It is a secondary source of applicable Canadian and Ontario law on a governmental website. This source is relevant because this episode will center on the limitations of religious freedoms, and this website outlines the current state of religious freedoms as well as how society is expected to use them. It is a popular government source. 


Galanter, Marc. Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion. Oxford University Press, 1999.

This is an academic book on cults and techniques used within them. Because there is no universally agreed upon definition of a cult, the author uses the term charismatic group to discuss the typical, pseudo religious organizations that he wishes to investigate. Early on in the book the author demonstrates that even an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can take on certain aspects of a charismatic group or cult. This is relevant to the episode because it illustrates the dynamics within religious or cultish communities and how the customs of such a group dictate the lives of its members. The book does focus on more outlandish ideologies and concepts, so it also provides a good look into why some governments seek to regulate or intervene with specific situations. This is a scholarly source. 


Stolzenberg, N. M. “Righting the Relationship Between Race and Religion in Law.” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 31, no. 3, Oct. 2011, pp. 583–602., doi:10.1093/ojls/gqr014.

This article is a peer reviewed, scholarly source. The main topic is about the overlap of race and religion and the instances in which they must be examined together. It also compares the differences in American and European legal viewpoints on discrimination cases, where the author mentions that Americans tend to focus on the race and neglect religion and culture, and that Europeans focus on religion more than race and culture. Some examples are provided to illustrate this. In relation to this episode, it provides insight into multiple court cases centering around religious discrimination, and how they had to be differentiated from racial discrimination in the eyes of the court.


Friedson, Meredith L. “Psychotherapy and the Fundamentalist Client: The Aims and Challenges of Treating Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 54, no. 2, 2014, pp. 693–712., doi:10.1007/s10943-014-9946-8.

This is a peer reviewed, scholarly article meant for those who wish to gain understanding on therapy for Jehovah’s witnesses. The relevance to the episode is that it deals with two controversial practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, isolation and shunning. In Wall’s case he mentions that distress from the shunning of his daughter caused the incidents which led to his disfellowship. The article gives an in depth look into experience with such distress.


Dirksen, Annegret. “Children of Jehovah's Witnesses under Two Dictatorships*.” Religion, State and Society, vol. 34, no. 2, 2006, pp. 191–210., doi:10.1080/09637490600624857.

This article discusses the persecution of Witnesses in Germany under Nazi rule and German Democratic Republic (GDR). It is a peer reviewed, scholarly source. This is relevant to the episode because it is a clear representation of  deeply negative government involvement with Witness children, on a much larger scale than the Wall case.  


Knox, Zoe. “Writing Witness History: The Historiography of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.” Journal of Religious History, vol. 35, no. 2, 2011, pp. 157–180., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2010.01030.x.

This is a peer reviewed, scholarly article which outlines the founding of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group, their influence on the acceptance of societies, and notorious controversies. It provides a general information on the history and literature of the group, as well as examples of how people come to be disfellowshiped.


Bodnaruk, Zenon M, et al. “Meeting the Clinical Challenge of Care for Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Transfusion Medicine Reviews, vol. 18, no. 2, 2004, pp. 105–116., doi:10.1016/j.tmrv.2003.12.004.

This article discusses one of the most controversial legal debates in relation to Witnesses; blood transfusion refusal. It provides some detail as to the legal process of refusal, which can include trials and hearings for families who must decide for a child in a life threatening situation. It is relevant because of the legal scenarios that can arise when religious beliefs prevent a person from certain actions. It is a peer reviewed, scholarly article.