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Moral Judgment, Criminal Law and the Constitutional Protection of Religion
The Supreme Court Law Review: Osgoode’s Annual Constitutional Cases Conference
  • Benjamin L. Berger, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University
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What, if any, is the conceptual relationship between the constitutional protection of religious conscience and the criminal law in a modern liberal democracy? This paper examines this issue in the context of contemporary Canadian criminal law and the protection of religious freedom and equality in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The paper argues that there is a deep, though heretofore unexamined, conceptual tension between these two fields of law: The constitutional protection of religious freedom and substantive criminal law are both centrally concerned with the role of the state in making and enforcing moral judgments, but are contesting this boundary from different directions. This paper first traces a variety of modes of interaction between the constitutional protection of religion and substantive criminal law since the introduction of the Charter in 1982. The paper the n examines certain turns in the Supreme Court’s approach to both religious freedom and the criminal law, offering critical reflections on the current conception of religion, the role of Charter values in contemporary constitutional adjudication, and modern debates about harm in the criminal law. Concluding that all of these developments suggest that the deep moral tension between these two areas is bound to grow in years to come, the paper examines examples drawn from contemporary issues in Canadian criminal law — the role of religion in the defence of provocation and the constitutionality of the criminal offence of polygamy.

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Citation Information
Benjamin L. Berger. "Moral Judgment, Criminal Law and the Constitutional Protection of Religion" (2008)
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