Last month the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published an article with a rather condescending tone: “Where did the term ‘parental rights’ come from?” Other media outlets have published similar pieces, all imbued with the notion that parental rights is a foreign concept invented by malcontents who should be trusting their betters in the provincial education bureaucracies. These articles are responding to a recent series of protests throughout Canada, a movement called 1 Million March 4 Children. The protesters are parents concerned about public school board policies that encourage gender transitioning and the use of preferred pronouns. The media have generally portrayed these protests in a negative light, with some going so far as to depict them as disseminating hate.
Sad to say, this attitude is not unusual in Canada, where secularization has largely emptied the historic Protestant churches, including Anglican and Presbyterian congregations and the United Church of Canada. The province of Québec, for centuries a bastion of traditional Catholicism, underwent a rapid secularization in the 1960s known as the Quiet Revolution. Ontario was once dominated by the Orange Order, a fraternal Protestant organization with roots in Ireland’s County Armagh. In both provinces, church attendance had been a respectable practice, a marker of adherence to the unofficial religious establishment. Today, to the contrary, church attendance carries little prestige, but an establishmentarian ethos persists in the form of a hegemonic expressive individualism, or what I call the “choice-enhancement state.” The few churchgoers left often take pains to put distance between themselves and those who publicly dissent from the new secular establishment. This has left the confessional Protestants and traditional Catholics with little outside support for their concerns. Hence the turn to protest.
As we near the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, Canada increasingly resembles Europe of the nineteenth. The French Revolution of 1789 unleashed a wave of secularization across the continent through both military force and the writings of sympathetic intellectuals. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Congress of Vienna restored the Netherlands—not as the confederal republic it had been before 1795, but as a centralized monarchy occupying all of today’s Low Countries. The government, under liberal influence, pursued a top-down educational policy aimed at banishing traditional religions from the schools. This was based on the assumption that the young must be educated in a more modern worldview, which held that traditional religion should be confined to churches and private households for the sake of national unity.