Dr. Andrew Bennett, an ordained deacon and public intellectual, speaks in Langley early next month. (Special to the Langley Advance)

Visiting deacon tackles religious freedom debate in Langley lecture

Dr. Andrew Bennett will be at Langley’s TWU on March 9 to address the annual Mel Smith lecture event.

A senior deacon with a faith-based think tank will be in Langley tackling what he calls the “erosion” of religious liberty during an upcoming lecture.

For the past 18 years now, Trinity Western University has hosted the annual Mel Smith Lecture each spring. By inviting Dr. Andrew Bennett this time, organizers are hoping to attract more than 100 to hear him speak.

Bennett is an ordained Ukrainian Greek-Catholic deacon from Eastern Canada who currently serves as the program director at Cardus Law, an organization looking at the role of law in society – with particular focus on religious freedom in Canada.

He served as Canada’s first ambassador for religious freedoms and is widely recognized as an authority on the matter, said Nick Loenen, chair of the Mel Smith scholarship and lecture committee.

“Religious liberty is of current interest… As you may know, the Supreme Court of Canada is currently considering whether Trinity Western University can maintain its distinctive Christian character, unhindered,” Loenen explained.

“In addition, the federal government has recently adjusted the eligibility criteria for the summer jobs funding program, whereby it seems pro-life organizations might well be excluded,” he said, adding that the federal Liberal party also disqualifies pro-lifers as party candidates.

“Last year in parliament a standing committee’s chair was removed because [of] the person’s pro-life beliefs, and the Governor General publicly mocked Christian beliefs and was then defended by the prime minister. Such developments raise questions regarding the prime minister’s call to respect diversity,” said Loenen, who was a politician himself.

He served as a Social Credit MLA in Richmond and has been active in lobbying for electoral reform including the push for proportional representation.

“Bennett is one of Canada’s foremost authorities on the sometimes difficult questions of religious liberty, said Loenen, who’s also a political author. “We are honoured to have him as guest speaker and look forward to his views.”

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Faith and citizenship

TWU prof Paul Rowe “appreciates” the way that Dr. Bennett is able to bring a global perspective to the analysis of faith and citizenship.

“He brings to the topic his experience of working with multiple faith traditions across several continents,” added Rowe, who heads up political and international studies at Trinity.

“As a man of faith, he brought empathy and insight to his former role as ambassador for international religious freedom. In his work with Cardus, Dr. Bennett continues to draw attention to issues of religious freedom and public policy that are a common concern to people of faith across Canada.”

Rowe concluded: “As a faith-based institution, Trinity Western University has a vested interest in raising public awareness of this topic. At a time when politicians of all stripes have engaged in missteps on the file of religion and public life, he brings an important perspective on the topic.”

Bennett’s lecture, the Christian and the Public Square: Truth and the Messy Business of Citizenship, is being held Friday, March 9 at TWU’s Northwest Building Auditorium at 7 p.m.

The event typically attracts 40 to 50 people, a mixture of students and public from throughout Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, said Lloyd Mackey, one of the past speakers and promoter of this year’s lecture.

“It is hoped that with Andrew Bennett and the Cardus link, that there will be a new pool of people who Carus has been able to cultivate through their Faith in Canada project” who come out for the lecture, Mackey added.

In earlier years, the event attracted as many as 100 people with past speakers including Ralph Klein, Bill Blaikie, Rafe Mair, Preston Manning, Cuck Strahl, and most recently Troy Lanigan.

Thise event will also feature the awarding of the most recent Mel Smith scholarship winner, an award presented to a TWU student of “exceptional” academic ability who is majoring in Canadian history or political science.

Admission is free, and a reception will follow.

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Remembering Mel Smith

In addition to the annual lecture and scholarship, TWU also honours Mel Smith by archiving some of his work.

The Mel Smith Special Collection – chronicling federal-provincial relations during the crucial period 1967 to 1992 – is housed in TWU’s archives and includes a comprehensive set of professional and personal constitutional papers.

The collection provides a B.C. perspective on Canadian constitutional issues, and is available to students and researchers from all institutions, http://archives.twu.ca/

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