Tamar Iveri is an opera singer from Tbilisi, Georgia. Her career is thriving since her debut at La Scala in Milan in 2011. She has an extraordinary talent and is very much in demand at opera houses across the world. She is currently embroiled in a scandal for allegedly having approved of anti-gay protests in Georgia in 2013.
Same-sex activity was decriminalized in Georgia in 2000. However, she hails from a society where 83.9% of the population (according to the CIA World Fact Book) practices Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the majority belonging to the national Georgian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church opposes homosexuality as a contravention of traditional Georgian values and the public largely concurs.
It is alleged she made the following statement in a letter to the Georgian president following violent anti-gay protests in Tbilisi in 2013:
I was quite proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade… Often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation in the future, and to be taken into account seriously. Please, stop vigorous attempts to bring West’s ‘fecal masses’ in the mentality of the people by means of propaganda.
The letter was brought to the attention of the National Opera of Paris by the Georgian gay rights organization Identoba who asked that her concert at the National Opera of Paris be cancelled.
She admits to approving of the anti-gay protests, despite having many gay friends. She has since formally apologized for airing these comments and views. Her apology proved too little, too late for Opera Australia who hired her to sing the role of Desdemona in a production of Verdi’s Otello in July 2014. In learning of her comments, Opera Australia has seen fit to release her from her contract noting “Opera Australia believes the views as stated to be unconscionable.”
The fact remains that vehement religious opposition to homosexuality is a reality in Georgian society and she has as much right as anyone else to speak her mind on the issue. That she saw fit to openly express her opinion on homosexuality has caused her considerable embarrassment outside of Georgia and the cancellation of her contract with Opera Australia.
Opera Australia would do well to remember is that her views are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Audiences appreciate her for her voice, not her personal opinions.
Religious liberty is one of the core values underpinning Western civilization. It is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 18. In Canadian society religious liberty is guaranteed in Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Across the West people are free to practice a religion or none at all. In Canadian society people practice a variety of religions to varying degrees of orthodoxy. Yes, religious liberty is something we value in Canadian society and as a society we are prepared to accommodate practitioners of various religions, but this has to be within reason. What must not be overlooked in the discussion of the accommodation of religious belief and observance is that this is something the believer chooses to do; it is not obligatory. If one chooses to practice a religion and observe its dictates this is entirely a personal matter. As such, the expectation is that the believer will tend to these matters on their own time and on their own dime.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has managed to overlook this reality recently in determining that a dispute between a Muslim worshiper and the City of Mississauga over a parking fine merits a hearing before a tribunal on the grounds that the municipal parking restrictions discriminates against Muslims. The details of the complaint are as follows:
“The applicants identify themselves as Muslim and state that they attend Friday prayers at the ISNA Canada Centre (“ISNA”) located at 2200 South Sheridan Way in Mississauga. Salman Khalid received a parking ticket when he parked on nearby Finfar Court rather than the ISNA parking lot, which the applicants state can be difficult to get in and out of when it is busy. There is no dispute that parking is prohibited on Finfar Court between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The applicants assert that this prohibition discriminates against Muslims. The respondent states that the prohibition is necessary to address traffic congestion and safety concerns created when visitors to the ISNA park on Finfar Court to attend Friday prayers and denies that it is discriminatory.”
There is accommodation for religious belief and practice and then there is the absurdity of convening a human rights tribunal over an individual worshiper’s inconvenience in finding parking when he goes to say his prayers. This foolishness needs to be reined in, and the sooner the better.
Separate school boards are allowed to operate alongside the public school boards in the province of Ontario. The law provides for them to accommodate members of the Christian faith, either Catholic or Protestant, where their numbers make them a minority–this right does not apply to faiths outside Christianity–in the province of Ontario. Both public and separate school boards are funded by the provincial government and the Ontario Ministry for Education governs the curriculum. While there are separate Catholic school boards in Ontario, they operate under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of Education. The Catholic Church does not have a constitutional, legal, or proprietary interest in the separate school boards.
The reason behind this goes back to the reign of King Henry VIII when he broke from the Papacy, establishing the Church of England in 1534. What followed in succeeding centuries in the British Isles was legislation that discriminated against Catholics and efforts to assimilate the Irish Catholic population. The Church of Ireland was founded as the state church in an effort to convert the Irish from Catholicism. It failed. Sectarian strife continued in the British Isles with persecution of Catholics which led to events like the Gunpowder Plotagainst King James I in 1605 and the Glorious Revolution against King James II who intended to relax England’s laws against Catholics in 1685. He was replaced by their very Protestant Majesties William of Orange and Queen Mary in 1689, which put paid to any hope of restoring Catholicism to England. Suffice it to say that, historically, Catholics were reviled as a religious minority and treated very badly under English Common Law.
By the 1840s in Upper Canada (Province of Ontario) Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882) proposed “common schools” to educate children of all faiths. This was really quite forward thinking of Ryerson, but memories the Catholic minority held of their unjust treatment under English law in centuries past lingered. Hence, in light of their concerns, the Catholic population of Upper Canada was granted the right to separate school boards. This right was enshrined in law, in Section 93 of the Constitution Act (originally the British North America Act of 1867) which established Canada as a nation.
Given their history and standing in law, Ontario’s separate schools are well entrenched in society and best left to continue as part of Ontario’s education system.