The 'Supremacy of God', Human Dignity and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
University of New Brunswick Law Journal, Vol. 52, No. 227, 2003
15 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2008
Date Written: January 1, 2003
While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is now two decades old, and past its natural adolescence, we have yet to grapple with some of the most fundamental precepts, premises and principles which animate it. This essay is intended to explore two of these: the concept of human dignity, which does not appear in the Charter, and the concept of the supremacy of God, which are the first words to appear in the Charter.
The argument I advance in this essay is as follows. The reference to the supremacy of God in the Charter's Preamble should be given meaning as an animating principle of constitutional interpretation, on par with the rule of law with which it is paired. To embrace the rule of law while abandoning the supremacy of God is to neglect the governing premise of the Charter. The supremacy of God, in turn, can only play a meaningful role in constitutional interpretation if it is taken as a general statement regarding the universal, normative aspirations of the Charter, rather than as a direction to privilege anyone particular religious or spiritual perspective over another, or over those perspectives which deny the existence of God per se. The concept of human dignity represents a key normative aspiration of Charter jurisprudence. It has rarely been justified or elaborated, however, on normative terms. Rather, the Supreme Court has tended to treat its articulation of the scope and content of human dignity as an article of faith, simply to be invoked along the way to what the Court has deemed a just outcome of a Charter challenge. I argue that if the concept of human dignity was linked with the supremacy of God in the Charter's Preamble, it would be incumbent on courts to justify their claims regarding human dignity as a leap of faith, and a more coherent and robust elaboration of the Charter's moral architecture would result.
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