I live in Canada (province of Québec), where we have the Charter of Rights and Freedom that says:

Equality Rights
Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law

15 (1)

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

For a while, I've been wondering why religion is more important than other types of morals, philosophies, or beliefs, but over time I realised that every reason someone would give me also functions for money as well.

According to Legal Line's recent surveys of Canadian lawyers, it would likely cost $10,000-$25,000 to sue someone. I don't know about you, but with a minimum yearly wage of $27,000 before taxes ($13,50 x 40h/week x 50 weeks), I might have some trouble finding $10,000 to sue someone, even if I know for a fact they are in the wrong.

While legal aid exists, there are cases where you cannot get legal aid in my province (like to sue someone for defamation). Pretty much everywhere, the most experienced, and competent have a tendency to go in the private companies, because they can earn more money. Making it less likely that you will get a top tier lawyer while receiving legal aid. Plus, you have less options about who will represent you in court. Also, if you gain more than $34,321 before taxes in a year (leaving you with under $30,000 after taxes), chances are you'll have to pay for those fees yourself. You earn too much.

With those differences set out, here are all the reasons that I have heard or read in the past why money is ok, but not religion, and how I see them applying to money as well

  • "You are born into a religion, and your parents have a heavy influence on which religion you have as an adult"

You can be born into poverty, or into fortune. Chances are, if your parents are poor, you won't be super rich when you become an adult. And if your parents are rich, chances are that you will have a head start compared to most people when you reach adulthood.

  • "You can just work more hours / get a better job / work harder / start your own business"

There are always options that you can try to have more money, each with their own risks or downsides. In the same way, nothing prevents you from practicing a different religion, or no religion at all.

  • "People have beliefs. It's hard to go against your own beliefs. It would be a bad thing for people to have to choose between their beliefs or a better treatment from others if religion would be a source of discrimination"

Beliefs can clash with the need for money. I have a very personal dilemma in that aspect. I have the belief that who you are should rarely affect the consequences for your actions. In Canada, it is legally required for employee to be loyal to their employer, so I do not wish to have an employer or employees, forcing me to choose between working on my own, with no guarantee whatsoever, or step on my beliefs and get a job.

  • "Religion is a protected class to prevent bigger/more powerful religions from oppressing smaller/weaker religions"

By that logic, shouldn't money be as protected as religion then? $5,000 to serve a defamation lawsuit to someone saying bad (but true) things about you isn't much if you make millions. But the average person might just try to settle out of court, Even if it's clearly not defamation in their eyes, because $8,500-$20,000 to defend in court is a lot to someone having only $30,000 to spend per year.

So, what am I missing? Or what am I misunderstanding? Why is a barrier of entry in the form of money ok, or how is it not discrimination? Or perhaps I'm not getting what equal before and under the law, equal protection and equal benefit of the law mean?

  • maybe this belongs on SE.Law? I feel my active (cost) vs passive (prohibition) ought to be covered by specialized legal terminology and in any case this question is more about the application of law than politics (I think) Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 10:16
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I thought it would fit here, because I saw a question about why religion was a protected class coming from this SE (which is where I got my the 4th reason I have seen in the past)
    – Surtr
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 14:49
  • Comments deleted. Please remember that comments are for discussion the question itself, not its subject matter. If you want to have a debate, please create a chatroom.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 9:51

3 Answers 3


Equal protection clauses constrain the government from allowing itself being weaponized against people as a means of carrying out oppression. They exist to ensure that the apparatus of law is NOT employed for reasons other than the meaningful pursuit of justice. Their mission is specifically to avoid a perversion of the law, rather than to ensure that everyone is equally able to wield it. It is impossible for anyone to meaningfully promise that they will do something under all possible, unknown, future conditions. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to meaningfully promise to reject action under a defined set of conditions.

In addition to the differences between positive/negative rights (the right to have vs. the right to be free from), it's important to understand that religious discrimination is a primary motive whereas almost all wealth discrimination is an unintended side effect of a structure.

Economic disparity is real, and powerfully damaging in many ways. But very few people have taken action for the particular purpose of harming the poor (and even then mostly in the form of dress codes/membership requirements at country clubs and so forth). The same cannot be said for, e.g. religious violence - history, and even current events, are rife with people taking actions for the particular purpose of harming those whose religious identity the actor finds odious.

This places religious discrimination on a whole different level of deed than structural economic discrimination. The latter can be addressed by making tweaks to the structures that give rise to it. The former can only be addressed by confronting the deliberate motive.

  • Person A posts a video explaining how person B cheated in a competition, and how it is literally impossible to end up with their result without cheating. Person B requests of person A to remove the video or face legal action in the form a defamation lawsuit. If person B's goal is to scare person A into removing the truth (person B knows they cheated), would you consider that weaponizing the government against people? Would you consider the apparatus of law not being employed for reasons other than the meaning pursuit of justice. Would you consider the law to be perverted in this situation?
    – Surtr
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:29
  • 2
    @Surtr As with SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), which your example almost is: yes that's a perversion of the legal system. It's neither wealth discrimination, nor prohibited-class discrimination, however. It's just bog-standard criminal abuse. That sort of thing is handled via anti-SLAPP rules/laws, and by jurisprudential standards of what constitutes a legitimate vs. frivolous defamation claim. It's already illegal to commit crimes. In many cases such as this, a third party intervenor will step in to finance A's suit - usually w/others. A is rarely unique in these Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:33
  • @Surtr And that's assuming it's actually costly for Person A to defend their claim. In the United States, evidence supporting your statement is sufficient defense against defamation, and grounds for summary judgement. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:35
  • I like this answer, but is it really limited to the state being weaponized? The same laws apply to enforcing non-discrimination on private actors, while not necessarily obligating them to provide services to the poor. Housing, for example. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 17:06
  • 2
    @Surtr Generally speaking it boils down to: You can't solve all problems, so you have to decide what to prioritize and what to solve. It's not so much that the structural economic inequality is a preferred model; it's more that there's many other more serious issues that require attention, so it ends up by the wayside. That said, there ARE stopgap measures to correct for it (lawyers working for contingency, for example: you don't pay them unless they win, and then they get paid out of your awarded damages, etc.) which makes it less urgent for immediate correction. Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 15:27

Not sure how well these two compare.

In one case you are talking about society stopping people from taking away something, discriminating against others due to their religion. Or color. Or sexual orientation. Or... (a protected class, IIRC).

It doesn't cost society much to stop people from taking things away from other people and it seems inherently ethical to stop that from happening.

In the other case, you are either arguing for:

  • taking away someone's right to defend themselves in court (by not allowing them to spend their own money)

  • or else subsidizing people's court cases in non-criminal cases. Which, by definition comes at a cost to society.

I.e. it seems greatly simpler to stop discrimination than to subsidize everyone to equality. Because, why stop at just court cases? Income disparities suck, and they are all due to money, so...

p.s. Make no mistake, disparities of means in serious criminal cases are a serious matter - for example a person in the US was being defended on a death penalty case by a court-appointed lawyer who repeatedly fell asleep during the proceedings (they got convicted). But... sorry, the gravity of such cases does not extend to the vast majority of legal proceedings, and especially not those cited here.

  • There might be a good case for making laws as simple as possible (in their wording and in their impact) while still being as accurate and fair as possible in order to facilitate that people actually get to know their rights and be able to use the law. Otherwise if you just make the legal system more and more complicated the additional theoretical gain of justice might be wiped out by the additional barrier to actually use it. One would need to study how the number and complexity of laws has developed. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 9:30
  • 1
    The first one isn't society stopping people from taking away something. It is society forcing certain people (bigots who own stores) to provide certain things (whatever they sell in their stores) Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 9:46
  • 1
    @user253751 It is stopping them from taking away people's rights. don't be so keen on the stores analogy. 'forcing them to provide service' makes it sound like it's costing the bigots, but it really isn't. there is no cost to selling a wedding cake to person a versus to person b, no one is out of pocket. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 10:13
  • 1
    I would. Being forced to rent to some person of some religion or color you dislike doesnt cost you anything. You'd get the same rent from a person you do like. Being forced to rent below market is taking away your profits and it does cost you. Now, society may decide that rent caps are a good idea, but that's a different story and it still doesn't mean it's cost free: rent caps may discourage rental construction. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 10:20
  • 2
    "why stop at just court cases? Income disparities suck," To me, I don't see the link between something like you having a different income from your boss and receiving equal protection and benefit of the law
    – Surtr
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:10

Freedom of religion clauses date back to the 18th century, and are a response to a history of sectarian violence. Put bluntly, whenever a regime change occurred in England or Europe — be it a normal dynastic transfer of power or new leader brought in through revolution — the state would suddenly become associated with and supportive of the religion the new leader favored. This would lead to wars, programs, expropriation, and oppression of the precious 'in power' religious sect and of other religions that might be targeted. Many of the Britishers who colonized the US and Canada, for instance, were at the receiving end of such oppression after the collapse of Cromwell's (largely Puritan) Commonwealth and the restoration of the (Anglican) monarchy under Charles II.

Wealth had no equivalent history of political oppression in that era, which largely viewed the potential to earn wealth as a great equalizer. Wealth was not associated with political oppression at all until the mid-19th century, with the introduction of Socialism and Marxist theory. But Marxism proper never really got its day in the limelight; it was quickly overrun by Leninism and revolutionary ideation. The idea of the 'impoverished' or 'laborers' as a protected class was already being dismissed as Bolshevism in the early 20th century, as Russia progressively became more authoritarian and oppressive.

I agree (personally) that people should have basic economic rights: a living wage, disability and age protections, guaranteed housing and sustenance, etc. But the (pure) Marxist agenda of making a self-cognizant laboring class still hasn't materialized. We're all willing to recognize the top 1% as a problem, but we tend to shy away from associating with the problems of the bottom 10%.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .