Chaplain General Direction on Chaplain's Spiritual Reflection in Public Settings
A. Queen’s Regulations and Orders, Volume 1 – Chapter 33 Chaplain Services, QR&O: Volume I - Chapter 33 Chaplain Services - Canada.ca
B. The Defence Team Total Health and Wellness Strategy, The Defence Team Total Health and Wellness Strategy - Canada.ca
C. Supreme Court Judgement : Mouvement laïque québécois c. Saguenay (Ville). Date: 20150415; Dossier: 35496 2015 CSC 16
D. Mission: Ready – The Canadian Army integrated performance strategy (CAIPS), November 24th 2015, https://strongproudready.ca/missionready/w
1. This policy supersedes the "Public prayer at military ceremonies” directive which was issued in 2013 by the Office of the Chaplain General.
2. A fundamental underpinning of a military force is to reflect upon its collective history, and upon the sacrifices of members and their families. Historically, public prayer was featured in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) ceremonies and public functions as a means to commemorate these occasions, such as the Battle of the Atlantic, the Battle of Britain, Remembrance Day, and other local events.
3. While the dimension of prayer may occupy a significant place for some of our members, we do not all pray in the same way; for some, prayer does not play a role in their lives. Therefore, it is essential for chaplains to adopt a sensitive and inclusive approach when publicly addressing military members. Chaplains must ensure that all members feel respected and included by undertaking inclusive practices that respect the diversity of beliefs within the CAF.
4. The Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS) is mandated to provide chaplaincy services that meet the spiritual/religious needs of serving members of the CAF and their families (Ref A). Recognition of the spiritual dimension of the individual is consistent with the strategic framework outlined in The Defence Team Total Health and Wellness Strategy (Ref B), which calls for a strategy that focuses on nine global dimensions of health that includes spirituality.
5. Following the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruling in the Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) case (Ref C), the RCChS began an in-depth analysis of the impact that this legal decision could have on current policies and practices. The SCC set a strict standard for religious neutrality by the state, which the RCChS has a legal obligation to abide by. This requirement is aligned with the principle of inclusion that is paramount within the CAF. This ruling establishes that:
“The evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard, which means that it must neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. The pursuit of the ideal of a free and democratic society requires the state to encourage everyone to participate freely in public life regardless of their beliefs. A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society. The state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or nonbelievers in public life to the detriment of others.”
6. In light of the Canadian social and legal context described above, this directive aims to guide chaplains in their role as contributors to the spiritual health of all CAF members, and as advisors to the military chain of command regarding chaplain reflections at public functions.
7. The religious, spiritual and moral wellbeing of CAF members and their families is first and foremost “the responsibility of commanders” (Ref A, para. 33.06). As such, a CO may request that a chaplain shares a reflection at public functions when deemed appropriate, such as during a military parade, ceremonial or commemorative gathering, graduation, or formal dinner. A “public function” is a setting in which CAF members are required to attend in the execution of their duties. On such occasions, this directive shall be adhered to.
8. When a chaplain’s reflection at a public function is provided within the context of a mandatory public military ceremony/parade/gathering, the reflection shall be inclusive in nature, and respectful of the religious and spiritual diversity of Canada. The reflection must ensure that attendees are reasonably able to identify with the words being uttered. Chaplains shall endeavour to ensure that all feel included and able to participate in the reflection with a clear conscience, no matter their beliefs (religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist).
9. All spiritual elements of a reflection must be consistent with the following definition used by the Canadian Army Integrated Performance Strategy (Ref D): "Spirituality guides the way we understand our life journey: its path and its practices. It gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and is often expressed or experienced through religion, philosophy, or a rule of life. It is central to the development of moral character, values, and beliefs, and is intrinsic to how we experience self, others, and community. Our spirituality is informed by our world and life view and is most often understood as a means through which it is possible to connect to oneself, nature and the world, to others, privately or within a community”.
10. A public function provides an opportunity for chaplains to offer reflections that will bring people together, foster unity, commonality, and/or honour the human experiences of life and death that mark our lives. They can be expressed in a variety of ways, such as: thoughts on Canadian or CAF values; a search for meaning and belonging; an insight or wisdom; or words of thanksgiving, recognition, hope, or remembrance.
11. Leaders of traditional Indigenous spirituality also have a vital role to play and may share a teaching that is consistent with the inclusive purpose of this directive.
12. Public reflections must be done in an appropriate manner to engage all those gathered. When delivering a reflection in a public service setting, chaplains must carefully choose words that are inclusive. They should employ a language mindful of the Gender Based Analysis (GBA+) principles, incorporate elements in both official languages, and include the use of local languages when appropriate.
13. To visibly demonstrate our commitment to state religious neutrality, the RCChS will replace the current chaplain scarves with a scarf bearing the crest of the RCChS in place of the Faith Tradition crests. The RCChS crest is a common and inclusive spiritual symbol. Only the RCChS scarf is authorized to be worn with military orders of dress during public ceremonies and each chaplain has the option to choose whether or not to wear it. Note that if the chaplain elects to wear the scarf, in accordance with RCChS Dress Regulations, headdress should not be worn.
14. Chaplains must consider the potential that some items or symbols may cause discomfort or traumatic feelings when choosing the dress they wear during public occasions.
15. Note that the order ‘remove headdress’ should never be given before a chaplain’s reflection, as this occasion is not considered a religious event as outlined in the Canadian Forces Manual of Drill and Ceremonial (Ch 2, para 22).
16. The enforcement of this policy has two dimensions. The first is the educational component. In this regard, the Canadian Forces Chaplain School and Centre (CFChSC) will play a key role in integrating this new directive on spiritual reflection into all courses offered to chaplains during their career. The other component is administrative and disciplinary, as remedial measures, withdrawal of the Chaplain General’s mandate, or disciplinary actions may be taken in the case of a chaplain who does not comply with this directive.
17. The intent of this directive is to provide CAF chaplains with clear guidance and direction regarding the delivery of a spiritual reflection during public functions which require the mandatory attendance of CAF members.
18. The RCChS affirms the value and importance of a diversity of beliefs within Canadian society, and in the CAF. The RCChS embodies and embraces theprinciple of state religious neutrality as a Canadian public institution by not favoring one specific religious faith group or belief system over another, while still acknowledging and making certain to respect, in a holistic manner, the spiritual dimension and needs of all persons. To that end, this policy puts in place conditions to provide CAF members with inclusive, engaging, and thoughtful reflections that will, at shared public military events, draw members together in thought, contribute to their overall wellbeing and resiliency, and act as a means to unite members as part of the Defence Team.
Brigadier General J.L.G. Bélisle, MB, MSM, CD
11 October 2023
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