Canada's Hub for International Affairs

Discussing Freedom of Religion or Belief

| January 17, 2013



On January 21st at 9:00 est, hosted an online discussion here and on our Google + page on freedom of religion or belief and the future of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.

Discussion participants included United Nations Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt, Members of Parliament David Anderson and Scott Reid, Dr. Malcolm Evans of Bristol University, Dr. Nazila Ghanea-Hercock of Oxford University, and Dr. Janet Epp-Buckingham of Trinity Western University. The discussion was moderated by Robert Joustra, editor of Cardus Policy in Public.

For more background information, please read the article Canada and the Future of Religious Freedom by Geoffrey Cameron and Eric Farr.

Discussion highlights:

Evans: “I don’t know that we should be talking about a particular definition, or a need to defend the freedom of religion and belief as such… it is first and foremost an element of the human rights framework, we do not need to justify freedom of religion—fortunately, it is there.”

Bielefeldt: “Sometimes we see [that FRB]… Is an amalgamate with a fuzzy tolerance rhetoric… At the peak of that debate on the Dutch cartoon crisis, [we saw that] freedom of religion and belief is NOT a tool to be used against freedom of speech.”

 Bielefeldt: “Rhetorically, we do see a lot of confusion… As if freedom of speech is the green light: you can be provocative, you can put all the things on the table you would like to discuss. And freedom of religion and belief is something like a stop sign. It’s really, completely wrong.”

Ghanea-Hercock: “All rights inform one another. All rights can be limited, except for the absolute rights and the absolute components of FRB: the right to have a religion or a belief of one’s choice.”

Epp-Buckingham: [On the Quebecois Bouchard-Taylor Commission hearings]: “Some of the things that came out publicly, people were very uncomfortable with because people expressed themselves sometimes in a very intolerant way. But going forward… we understand what’s out there, in terms of people’s ideas, and now we need to move forward as a society, getting along and accommodating one another.”

Anderson: [In reference to other countries:] “The threat of state sponsored secularization—the state actually begins to take the position that they are going to force religion out of the public realm and into the private realm.”

Anderson: “[There is] the challenge of taking absolutes—you have an absolute on one side of tolerance; and then within religions—just by their very nature, you have the notions of absolutes… sometimes it’s very difficult to find the common living conditions.”

Bielefeldt: “When it comes now to building trust, to overcoming atrocities, to overcoming political paranoia, trust necessary implies respect for human beings’ deep convictions… you can’t even think about reconstructing a nation, building institutions, building human rights infrastructure, without also bringing FRB into that picture.”

 Evans: “In these post-conflict situations, of course we must be focusing on the religious, because this is actually, at a very practical level, what people have been working with– and what’s been sustaining many of them.”

Ghanea-Hercock: “We want to work with religious institutions, they have survived, and they might be part of a positive vision of society.”


  • Alex Taylor

    Great discussion, thanks!