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Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV.

Smart, ambitious, innovative …. and religious young Canadians just got kicked to the curb by the Liberal government. Faith-based youth have had their prospects for summer jobs dimmed and their convictions marginalized as all but one Liberal member of Parliament voted Monday night to limit access for summer job grants to those who believe in a pro-choice ethic.

Something simple and open such as the funding for summer jobs has become a public relations nightmare for a government that champions inclusion and diversity.

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Best I can tell, this began with a behind-the-scenes lobbying battle from pro-choice groups who, according to iPolitics, had gathered data showing that $3.5-million of federal funding had gone to pro-life charities since 2011. Pro-choice activists then went to the source, asking the government to shut down funding to students that look for summer jobs to educate other young people about life in the womb. Students who were getting government grant monies for summer work at two or three vocal charities such as Campaign Life and Bio-Ethical Reform (a.k.a. as EndtheKilling.ca) were seen as a threat to reproductive choice.

The controversy could have been easily screened and flagged for individual evaluation at Canada Summer Jobs, but was instead handled with a sledgehammer called an attestation. It meant all applicants wanting summer grant funds were required to sign and affirm the Liberal position on reproductive rights. It sent the Canadian charity world reeling. These are the charities which employ thousands in summer activities such as outdoor camping, online training, community play, life skills and other non-political, non activist social care. A court challenge is already in play, and vigorous fundraising is underway to find other ways for charities to keep up their summer student hiring.

The Liberals responded to the objections by advising charities to just hold their nose and check off the attestation box, arguing that the process was not about beliefs and values but about screening out core mandates and activities that may be discriminatory to the Charter Rights of Canadians. Still, there have been thousands of complaints from charities and their supporters; beliefs inform core mandate and affect actions in public and private.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recently modelled high religious respect with his Indian tour wardrobe, is now facing a fierce image issue regarding religious respect at home. “The state of religious freedom in Canada now is alarmingly restricted, more so in than at any time in the nation’s history” Christian Elia of the Catholic Civil Rights League told The National Post. Well aware that religious voters are a swing constituency on hot-button issues, Conservatives crafted a motion to “support access to Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.” On Monday night, the House of Commons defeated the motion, 207 to 93.

It would be a mistake to think this is about money; this is a debacle about participation. Christian charities should never shrink away from tasks of love and care for people because of government funds – that’s profoundly unbiblical. Our convictions are not tied to government funds; our act of protest is to design budgets that grow the number of students we hire.

For all its progression on diversity, the Liberals missed out on the reality that students are an energizing lifeblood to both charity work and religious convictions. Students challenge the old guard about how they are positioning beliefs and actions. Yes, a few students stuff mailboxes with flyers of fetuses (the example Liberals give as requiring the CSJ attestation), but they do so with a deep sense that human rights are applicable to the unborn. Other students act upon a respect for human rights by bringing value, hope and love to every Canadian, regardless of any belief-based differences. We need more of that participation in charity life, not less. The political battle on this has been lost, and the government is free to do what governments do: run the shop according to their values, which are secular. Religious people must now do the same, run their shop according to their values.

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