Iain Tyrrell Benson
|Born||Edinburgh, Scotland, 1955|
|Nationality||Dual citizen of Canada and the United Kingdom|
|Occupation||Legal philosopher, professor of law, constitutional lawyer.|
|Known for||Developer of intellectual frameworks for understanding pluralism, secularism, the secular and human rights as pertaining to faith and religious rights and freedoms and Legal ethics|
Iain Tyrrell Benson (born 1955 in Edinburgh, Scotland) is a legal philosopher, writer, professor and practising legal consultant. The main focus of his work in relation to law and society has been to examine some of the various meanings that underlie terms of common but confused usage. His work towards an understanding of secular and secularism has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He has also given critical study to the terms pluralism, faith, believer, unbeliever, liberalism and accommodation and examined the implications for various legal and non-legal usages.
Benson was a member of the draft committee for the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms, a document which sets out core aspects of citizenship and the rights and freedoms of religion and conscience in a constitutional democracy. He has also made significant contributions to the understanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and religious freedom under Canadian law. He was retained by the Government of Canada to author material concerning Religion and Public Policy as an aspect of Federal Multi-Culturalism Policy and is an ongoing expert advisor to the South African Council for the Promotion of Religious Freedoms.
An advocate that the public sphere should be open and inclusive of all citizens and their groups, whether their faith and belief commitments are based on non-religious or religious beliefs, Iain Benson was the first Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, a non-partisan, non-denominational charitable foundation with status in both Canada and the United States, dedicated to examining the nature of pluralism with particular reference to the associational rights dimension of religion and expression. In 2010 he was appointed one of ten inaugural directors of the Global Centre for Pluralism along with Kofi Annan and Adrienne Clarkson and chaired by His Highness the Aga Khan IV. He was also the invited rapporteur on Law and Religious Diversity in Canada and South Africa to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at the Vatican City in May 2011 and was appointed as expert adviser to the South African Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms in September that same year.
In his capacity as a constitutional and human rights lawyer, Benson has written and lectured extensively in the area of ethics, virtues and pluralism, and acted as an advisor in the fields of medical ethics and bioethics across Canada, Saudi Arabia, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Some of Benson's writings have appeared or been translated in French, Italian, German, Afrikaans, Flemish and Spanish.
Iain Benson is the eldest of three children born to Kenneth and Margaret (née Scott) Benson, and was raised primarily in Victoria, B.C.. The family moved from Edinburgh to Quesnel, British Columbia, and then to Prince George, B.C., where Kenneth Benson worked as a Medical Health Officer and was later appointed Assistant Deputy Minister of Health for the government of British Columbia.
Benson attended Oak Bay Senior Secondary School (1974) and obtained degrees from Queen's University, Ontario (English Literature B.A. Hons. 1980), University of Windsor, Ontario (Law LLB 1984)and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, England (Law M.A.1987).
In 1984 he worked as a summer research assistant based at Oxford University, England and was called the following year to the bar of British Columbia. Benson practised with the firm Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Laing before becoming a solicitor in 1987 with the British Columbia Industrial Relations Council (BCIRC). In 1989 he was appointed Senior Solicitor for the Council and practised there through the organisation's development into the Labour Relations Board of British Columbia. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow for the Centre for Cultural Renewal in 1994, and in 2000 became the centre's first Executive Director.
In 2008 Benson took up a position as the first non-national research associate for the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Human Rights, Public and International Law (SAIFAC). The following year he was appointed Extraordinary Professor of Law in the Department of Constitutional and Philosophical Law at the University of the Free State, South Africa, became a Senior Research Fellow for the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta and took up a position as Senior Associate Counsel at Canadian Law Firm, Miller Thomson.
In 2010 Benson was appointed to the executive committee of the Foundation Board of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa and became a Member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. In 2011 he was admitted as a Member of the International Association of Constitutional Law at the ICAL meeting in Mexico.
Benson carries out written and research work, international lectures, government and private consultation, court appearances before all levels of court in Canada, media interviews and invited academic and government colloquia and panels, in various areas.
In the early twentyfirst century he was one of two non-nationals on the Continuation Committee drafting the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms under Section 234 of that country's constitution, and addressed the ceremony for the public signing of the charter in Johannesburg in October 2010. Earlier that same year, Iain Benson delivered the keynote paper on religious inclusivity in Canada to the Canadian Embassy to the Holy See, and discussed the issues of accommodation of religion in the public sphere to the Centre for Cultures and Languages in Africa.
Benson works in the field of ethics and constitutional law through his involvement with the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Human Rights, Public and International Law, The Chester Ronning Centre in Alberta, Canada and as Professor Extraordinary in the Faculty of Law, Department of Constitutional Law and Philosophy of Law at the University of the Free State. In 2008 he was an invited panel respondent to Dr. Margaret Somerville's "Ethics on a Wire" Keynote Address at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Canada and in 2009 addressed the American Political Science Association hosted by the American Public Philosophy Institute with a lecture entitled "Standing Freedom on its Head: “Equality” and “Non-discrimination” and the Suppression of Democratic Liberties: Law, Liberty and Convergence".
In November 2007 Benson was invited to submit a proposal to the Canadian Federal Government Policy Research Initiative on “Religion and Public Policy”. He wrote a background “think-piece” on religion and public policy in Canada entitled “Taking a Fresh Look at Religion and Public Policy in Canada: The Need for a Paradigm Shift”. He has also appeared before several Canadian government bodies, including the Royal Commissions on Education and New Reproductive Technologies and the Law Reform Commission formed to examine abortion. He has appeared before the Senate Special Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance (re: Pension Reform) and numerous House of Commons of Canada Committees.
Benson has been interviewed on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation programs including "Ideas", "Tapestry", "Cross-country Check-up" and "Commentary". He has been interviewed on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Vatican Radio, Reuters and various radio stations in England and South Africa. Benson has acted as external reader of manuscripts for various presses and journals including McGill-Queen's University Press(Montreal), University of Toronto Press(Toronto), Queen's Law Journal (Kingston, Ontario), The Journal of Religion, State and Society(Routledge, UK) and the South African Journal of Human Rights, Acta Theologica(South Africa).
Benson continues to lecture across Canada, the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, giving papers on topics ranging from, constitutional law and religion, literature, the nature of the "secular", "secularism", "pluralism", and issues related to ethics and the accommodation of differing beliefs.
Legal philosophy and political theory
Benson has published work on the accommodation of religious and non-religious rights, and has worked to promote the idea of shared civic virtues serving the common good across all belief communities. His published opinion is that all citizens have faith and belief in something, whether these beliefs are grounded in religion or not, and that the public sphere is obliged to act with balance.
Benson's "Notes Towards a (Re)Definition of the 'Secular'" was cited by the Supreme Court of Canada (in its landmark 2002 Chamberlain decision). This case concerned whether books on same-sex parented families should be approved at kindergarten grade. In their decision to refer the matter back for a non-discriminatory decision, the court said that the B.C. School Act's insistence on secularism and non-discrimination lies at the heart of this case. [It] provides that "[a]ll schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles". It also emphasises that "[t]he highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school". The decision cites Benson's article in connection with proper understanding of the concepts of "secular" and "non-sectarian", and says that it is an error to equate"secular" with "non-religious". In subsequent writing, Benson has been critical of the court's apparent adoption of "secularism" as the matter was never argued before them and was not essential to the statutory interpretation before them. This work was cited with approval by Justice Albie Sachs in the 2005 decision of the South African Constitutional Court in the Fourie decision.
Benson has also criticised a failure to examine the meaning of "secularism" in the works of most commentators on the "secular" and "secularism" itself, including the work of Charles Taylor. He has been critical of the tendency to assume that "secularism" is a neutral concept, when the origin of the term was within a framework that expressly intended to minimise any public relevance for religions.
Benson has argued that the Canadian approach to a pluralistic society has often overlooked the important role that religions play in the public sphere as well as in the lives of citizens and their groups. He contends that secularism is not neutral regarding religion, and that the term as most people have understood it excludes from "the public sphere" a key component of many citizens' identities, which is their freedom of conscience and religion. Benson further argues that a better understanding of the term "secular" would keep religion and the state jurisdictionally separate while allowing for co-operation and mutual understanding between them. The ultimate goal of this preferred philosophy would be to create a society in which individual and communal differences are accepted and embraced rather than one in which law and politics are viewed as building towards forced "agreement" or "convergence". A "think-piece" paper for the Canadian Federal Government's Policy Research Initiative group on "Religion and Public Policy" (January 2008) was an elaboration of some of his thinking on the issue and highlighted the need for a paradigm shift in the way we approach religion and public policy. It also outlined some of the implications this should have for government actions in relation to multiculturalism in the public sphere, and legal decisions in relation to religious freedom and the principles of accommodation.
More recently he has begun examining the tendency of legal decisions to remove from consideration the communal dimension of religious rights, and has written of the associational dimension of the freedom of religion and its importance to society.
Other involvements and interests
Iain Benson is a published poet. He was also the editor of Volume VII of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, contributing a critical introduction and several hundred footnotes to Chesterton's novels Manalive, The Ball and the Cross and The Flying Inn. In 2001 Benson addressed the Oxford University, C.S. Lewis society, and became a Knight of Magisterial Grace of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Benson remains a prolific author across a range of subjects. Notable selected publications include
- Living Together with Disagreement: Pluralism, the Secular, and the Fair Treatment of Beliefs in Canada Today
- Considering Secularism
- Notes Towards a (Re)Definition of the 'Secular'
- Taking a Fresh Look at Religion and Public Policy in Canada: The Need for a Paradigm Shift
- The Case for Religious Inclusivism and the Judicial Recognition of Associational Rights: A Response to Lenta
- Unexamined Faiths and the Public Place of Religion: Emerging Insights from the Law
- The Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities
- The Jurisdiction of Science: What the Evolution/Creation Debate is Not About
- Is Canada Moving Towards or Away from Religious Inclusivity in the Public Sphere?
- Physicians and Marriage Commissioners: Accommodation of Differing Beliefs in a Free and Democratic Society
- Do ‘Values’ Mean Anything at All? Implications for Law, Education and Society
- The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton Volume VII (ed)
- "Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada: Chamberlain v. Surrey School District".
- "South African Legal Information Institute:Constitutional Court:Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Fourie and Another".
- "SSRN:Constitutional Law, Jurisprudence & Legal Philosophy eJournals".
- "FSI: South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms".
- "Living Together with Disagreement: Pluralism, the Secular, and the Fair Treatment of Beliefs in Canada Today".
- "Taking a Fresh Look at Religion and Public Policy in Canada: The Need for a Paradigm Shift".
- Benson, Iain (2007). "The Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities". Emory International Law Review 21 (1): 111–165.
- "Miller Thompson: Our People:Professional Achievements".
- Benson, Iain (2010). "Taking Pluralism and Liberalism Seriously: The Need to Re-understand Faith, Beliefs, Religion and Diversity in the Public Sphere". Journal for the Study of Religion. Special Issue "Public Faith and the Politics of Faith". 23, Numbers 1 & 2, 2010 (1 & 2): 17–41 at 36.
- "A brief history of the Centre for Cultural Renewal".
- "South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law:Staff".
- "Global Centre for Pluralism Board of Directors".
- "SAIFAC Staff Information".
- "UFS: Constitutional Law and Legal Philosophy: Staff".
- "SSRN:Ronning Centre Forums II, 2010".
- "UAlberta: Chester Ronning Centre:Human Rights and Religious Associations Files".
- "Miller Thomson LLP: Our Staff: Iain T. Benson".
- "Ismaili Net: Heritage Field:IainTBenson".
- "SAIFAC: Biography:Iain Benson".
- "SSRN:Is Canada Moving Towards or Away from Religious Inclusivity in the Public Sphere?".
- "Conscience Laws:Ethical Commentaries". The Protection of Conscience Project.
- Gerrie, James B. "Newsletter:Fall 2008:Editorial:CANADIAN SOCIETY OF CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHERS".
- "American Political Science Association: 2009 Annual Meeting Programme".
- "Taking a Fresh Look at Religion and Public Policy in Canada: The Need for a Paradigm Shift". Presentation to the Religion in Public Policy Project, Policy Research Initiative, Federal Government, Canada, January 2008.
- "Newman Centre: Reasonable Accommodation Panel: Biography: Iain Benson".
- "Canadian Constitution Foundation:2009 Annual Law Conference Speakers".
- "Social Science Research Network: Papers by Iain T Benson; search for Iain Benson".
- Benson, Iain T (2000). University of British Columbia Law Review 33: 520 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID1654455_code1376064.pdf?abstractid=1654455&mirid=3
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- Benson, Iain T. (2004). "Considering Secularism" in "Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society". Montreal: McGill-Queen's. pp. 83–98. ISBN 0-7735-2812-1.
- "SSRN: Considering Secularism". RECOGNIZING RELIGION IN A SECULAR SOCIETY. McGill-Queens Press.
- "SAFII: Constitutional Court Decisions: Fourie Decision".
- Benson, Iain T. (December 2011). ""That False Struggle between Believers and Non-Believers"; "Le faux combat entre croyants et non-croyants"; "Quella falsa lotta tra credenti e non-credenti"". Oasis, Marcianum Press,. English, French, Italian, English-Urdu and English-Arabic editions. Year 6 (12): 22–25.
- Benson, Iain. "Taking a Fresh Look at Religion and Public Policy in Canada: The Need for a Paradigm Shift". Presentation to the Religion in Public Policy Project, Policy Research Initiative, Federal Government, Canada, January 2008. Social Science Research Network.
- Benson, Iain T. "The Case for Religious Inclusivism and the Judicial Recognition of Associational Rights: A Response to Lenta". Constitutional Court Review.
- Lakhani (ed), Ali (July 2011). "A Selection of Poems: Iain T. Benson". Sacred Web 27: 137–142.
- Benson (ed), I.T. (2004). The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. ISBN 0-89870-997-0.
- "SSRN Network: Iain T Benson: Author".