At a time when the freedom of conscience guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been eliminated for some Canadians for the first time in many years, the casual misuse of the term “conscientious objector” in the headline of the essay at the link below is dangerous.

A conscientious objector is one who defies conscription by the state, on threat of penalties, to compel him or her to act in a manner that violates their conscience. War resistors and doctors today in Ontario, who object to materially cooperating in the deaths of others, are examples of conscientious objectors (although it should be noted that doctors in Ontario today are denied the freedom of conscientious objection allowed to conscripted soldiers in Canada).

As the Alberta PC legislator described in this essay is not being conscripted, on threat of any penalties, to act in a manner which violates his conscience he is not in any significant sense a “conscientious objector.”

If we broaden the use of the term “conscientious objector” to mean anyone who makes a decision based on conscience, regardless of whether or not the decision involves objection to state compulsion to act against conscience, we will be left without a simple phrase to describe one who objects to state compulsion to act against conscience. It will become more difficult to recognize and talk about, or even think about, that particular variety of freedom denial by authoritarian agencies. Words matter!