Municipal Tensions

Clashes between church and state are never pretty.

There is a tension between the sacred and the secular, between worldviews that all too often seem diametrically opposed when you would expect them to be complementary. After all, both the state and religious authorities are ostensibly concerned with the well-being of the people.

I guess it is the definition of well-being that might be up for discussion in Outremont, which is part of the City of Montreal, Quebec. The local council has changed the zoning bylaws, effectively prohibiting the construction of new houses of worship, except in an industrial area.

I lived in Montreal as a child. I don’t remember much about Outremont – it was pretty far from the places I lived and I couldn’t have gotten there on my own. And had no reason to go there either. May parents may have known people from Outremont, but I didn’t. Probably all I really knew was that, like the Snowden and NDG areas of the city, it had a large Jewish population.

Forty-five years later it still does. A growing Jewish population. That needs more space to worship. But council will not approve construction of new religious buildings on the main streets. Or, I gather, in residential areas. Which leaves religious leaders with a space problem.

I’m sure they could work around the problem, with different service times perhaps. Maybe there are other options. Or maybe this is a case of religious discrimination.

Council ostensibly wants to protect local businesses by keeping houses of worship away from them. I’m not sure of the logic of that. After all there’s nothing to stop congregants from patronizing the bookstore or restaurant beside their building. I think a restaurant located beside a church could do very well, and see no reason why a synagogue would be any different.

Of course Quebec has a history of institutional anti-Semitism. Given that, I can understand why this would be a particularly contentious issue. The underlying question would remain as to whether this really is about zoning, or about something else. Would the reaction have been the same if it was a Roman Catholic church? Possibly not. What if the proposed place of worship was a mosque?

The situation can be used as a springboard for discussion. What is the duty of the majority to accommodate a minority?  ‎Do religious groups have rights to build houses of worship where they wish, or do authorities have the right to place restrictions? What is the remedy if the authorities won’t allow new construction anywhere?

We live in a pluralistic society. There is supposed to be tolerance and even acceptance of the viewpoints and rights of others. Sometimes theory and practice collide.

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One comment

  1. Brad Darbyson · · Reply

    “There is supposed to be tolerance and even acceptance of the viewpoints and rights of others.” Yet, tolerance is not capitulation.

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