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Lack of Religious Knowledge

Research shows that young people in Canada today have little knowledge about religion, and CF personnel are no different. We have seen that a decrease in knowledge about religion is occurring just when increasing participation of members of religious minority groups in the CF as well as the new types of missions being undertaken by the Canadian military indicate a need for education about world religions for all military personnel.

This development may contribute to future conflicts. Members of the Canadian Forces require more education about religion if they are to better understand the culture of the regions in which they are now being posted. Most of these regions are societies where religion is fully integrated with culture and where Western assumptions about the conflict between reason and religion as well as the separation of religion from politics do not hold. The Legault Report on Armed Forces and Canadian Society states that 'The rapid advances of civilian society as regards educated communication and debate have not been paralleled in the Armed Forces. The education of the officers and troops was focused almost exclusively in the past on purely technical military functions, which certainly favours the operational quality of our troops, but at the same time severely handicaps them in their need to adapt to contemporary society. We need soldiers who are both educated and capable of discernment within an environment where, most of the time, the objective is no longer to conquer or destroy but rather to construct and to participate in building peace' (Legault 1997, 4.1).1 Part of that call for education and discernment must include training about world religions, including differences in values. A senior military official told me that the Canadian military will work increasingly with multinational forces and non-governmental organizations that involve 'Multi-religious scenarios where we're working together with people from different religious traditions; and more and more military operations in developing nations [where tribal groups are present]. We're going to need people to be able to teach about that and help people to work together and understand [each other]. Soldiers need a better grasp of the spirituality in those environments.'

Apart from the challenges of a mission, personnel require more education about religious identity in order to address behaviours that foster exclusion, and lead to discrimination and harassment of members of religious minorities. While traditionally the imposition of a military ethos has been effective for establishing esprit de corps within a homogeneous group, Canadian values of multiculturalism and fairness enshrined in the Charter and laws requiring the provision of 'reasonable accommodation' for religious needs have the potential to create a situation of 'us' and 'them' that works against group unity. As new recruits from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds join the Canadian Forces, they receive 'cultural awareness, harassment and racism prevention training' (DND 2010b); however, none receive training that helps them understand the religious differences that set them apart.2 Although military policy states that open discrimination and harassment of others will result in expulsion from the CF, simple ignorance about other religious groups virtually guarantees further problems of misunderstanding and conflict. Members must be able to ask questions and present concerns about religious differences among their peers. Further, they require accessible moral leadership, direction, and feedback on their behaviour in order to maintain and uphold the institutional policies of the CF with regard to members of minority groups - whether those are defined by religion or other characteristics.

If these policies are not enforced, members of religious and other minority groups will continue to experience exclusion, discrimination, and harassment that could lead to increased stress injuries and suffering for personnel, reduced retention of members of minority groups, and numerous lawsuits and human rights complaints against the CF. Further, if the lack of religious knowledge in the CF is not addressed, efforts to accommodate and integrate religious minorities will fail because of cultural differences and a lack of mutual understanding between those coming from different traditions.

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