By: Hendrik van der Breggen
One of the winning submissions from the Battle of Ideas op-ed contest on the theme of Free Speech.

Remember rock band R.E.M.’s song “Losing my religion”? In view of Canada’s recent passing of Bill C16—a.k.a. Transgender Rights Bill—I think a new song should be sung. I title it “Forcing your religion.”

Consider this.

If we take University of Toronto psychologist Jordan B. Peterson’s criticisms of C16 seriously (which I do, because I think they’re strong logically and evidentially), then C16 will likely require Canadians to use a person’s preferred pronouns.

We may have to say “she” instead of “he”; or “he” instead of “she”; or maybe “e” or “ey” or “hu” or “peh” or “per” or “sie” or “ve” or “xe” or “ze” or “zhe”—whatever is preferred as a label for however one self-identifies one’s sex/ gender.

Interestingly, in discussions leading up to the passing of C16, Canadian Senator Grant Mitchell said the following in defence of C16:

“There is also the argument that transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender. Yet we, of course, accept outright that no one can discriminate on the basis of religion, and that too is clearly a very deeply subjective and personal feeling.”

Here is Senator Mitchell’s argument (in favour of C16) restated: Freedom to identify as transgender is like freedom of religion, so just as I am free to determine and live according to my religious identity, so too transgender persons are free to identify and portray themselves as such to the world.

Let’s think.

Here is an insightful reply.

Referring to the above argument at a later senate hearing, Dr. Bruce Pardy, professor of law at Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada), states this: “Those are the equivalents.”

“But,” Professor Pardy quickly adds, “here’s the one thing that people who claim freedom of religion do not have: they do not have the right to demand that other people agree.”

In other words, in a free society religious people have the freedom to believe (and live as if) religion X is true, but they don’t have the right to require others to say they agree X is true too. Similarly, transgender people have the freedom to believe (and portray) themselves as other than their biological sex, but they don’t have the right to require others to say they agree with what they believe.

Significantly, however, such agreement is implied by the preferred pronouns C16 requires.

So, dear proponents of preferred pronouns, by using the force of law to require others to use preferred pronouns when they disagree with those pronouns, you are in effect pushing your religion onto those others.

Sheesh. Oh, sorry, I meant to say Zheesh.

“Oh no, I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough.” – R.E.M.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. Hendrik’s teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, critical thinking/ logic, and ethics. Over the past nine years, Hendrik has written (and continues to write) the newspaper column “Apologia” in which he attempts to make philosophy accessible to the general reader. Past and current installments of “Apologia” are available at Hendrik’s blog: http://apologiabyhendrikvanderbreggen.blogspot.ca/. Links to Hendrik’s other articles can be found at his faculty profile page: http://www.providenceuc.ca/college/faculty_and_staff/faculty/hendrik_van_der_breggen/. The views expressed here or in his column/blog do not always reflect the views of Providence.


Image: Leonardo da Vinci – drawing of androgynous human body with two heads. Via Wikipedia.