conscience

The confused Canadian approach to conscience

The Canadian approach to conscience is, as the title suggests, confused. Conscience is often only paid scanting attention in judge-made law because its legal and social meaning is obscured by its most common manifestation. Courts adjudicating on issues relating to religious rights, or balancing the rights of a religious person or group against another minority’s interest, often touch on conscience as a facet of religion.

Michel Foucault assessing freedom of conscience in Madness and Civilization

A prolegomenon on freedom of conscience

One’s conscience is received by legal institutions and ethicists alike as the centre for moral decisions, yet the freedom to have a conscience is often interpreted in terms of religious belief. This interpretation is, of course, borne from conscience’s long association with religion: Canada’s governors were, for example, instructed to ‘permit Liberty of Conscience, and the free Exercise of all such modes of Religious Worship as are not prohibited by Law’.