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Paul Wells Introduces the New Missionaries

Paul Wells

Macleans Columnist

Today we’re pleased to launch a new series debating the federal Conservatives’ plans for an Office of Religious Freedom at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Maclean’s is presenting this series in partnership with the Canadian International Council, a non-partisan, Canada-wide organization established to strengthen Canada’s foreign policy.

The debate we’re launching today concerns one of the most unusual items in the Conservatives’ 2011 election platform. Last year the party promised an Office of Religious Freedom to “promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canada’s foreign policy.” Nine months later, all signs indicate the government is set to launch this office. The cost is modest, $5 million, but the departure from the policies of previous governments is striking. And worth discussing.

What’s the proper place of religion in Canada’s foreign policy? Is it in Canada’s national interest to promote religious freedom abroad? Will all religions receive equal protection? Will other types of rights have to take a back seat?

The CIC has lined up an impressive group of academic experts to discuss this question. Maclean’s bloggers will weigh in as the week continues. And we look forward to hearing from you too.

 

A Look At Religious Freedom Around the World

Restrictions on religious freedoms are growing around the world. This infographic lays out the scale of the issue. >>

 

 

In Defence

 

Clifford Orwin

Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto

In establishing an Office of Religious Freedom, the present government is not putting religious freedom above other human rights for the simple reasons that freedom of religion implies the other basic human rights. >>

 

Thomas Farr

Director, The Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University

Promoting religious freedom abroad is important for humanitarian reasons, but for strategic reasons too. Canada benefits from a stable Middle East, and the stability of countries like Egypt depends on getting the religion-state balance right. >>

 

Allen Hertzke

Professor of Politics and Faith, University of Oklahoma

By establishing an Office of Religious Freedom, Canada will gain the admiration and respect of a growing global network of human rights groups, scholars and heroes of conscience. >>

In Opposition

 

Janet Keeping

President, Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership

Creating an Office of Religious Freedom may not be such a good idea if there is no strategy for dealing with conflicts between religious freedom and protection of other human rights, and if the Office does not promote freedom of conscience as well. >>

 

Tony Burman

Former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News

Promoting religious freedom abroad serves immediate political interests in Canada, but little else. Not only will it not help the countries it targets, it will detract from Canada’s international reputation. >>

 

Daniel Dennett

Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University

Establishing an Office of Religious Freedom implicitly elevates religious freedom above other human rights that are more essential than religious freedom. >>

 

 

Background Reading

  • Foreign Minister Baird’s address at the Office of Religious Freedom stakeholder consultations.
  • Foreign Minister Baird’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on the Office of Religious Freedom.
  • The 2011 Conservative Party Platform that originally proposed the creation of an Office of Religious Freedom.
  • The U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

 

  • Howard in Brampton

    As a non theist, I can’t help but wonder about the absence of any mention about freedom from religion. That the Canadian government would incur any expenditure or effort to promote freedom of religion without even a nod toward it’s antithesis, is to me indicative of promotion of religion in general. Regardless of whether or not the promotion of religious belief is a part of the Conservative Party’s ideology, and it’s electoral platform, the establishment of this new office clearly is an assault against the separation of church and state. In Thomas Star’s article, his statement “Promoting religious freedom abroad is important for humanitarian reasons” doesn’t seem to take into account how one is to determine the difference between religious belief, and ethnic culture. The idea that religion is somehow a guarantor of humanitarian principals neglects to take into account the horrendous crimes against humanity by those who truly believed they were acting
    according to the dictates of their god. I believe that the beginnings of faith mark the cessation of reason, with faith being subjective and reason being objective, faith should have no place in government.

    • Anonymous

      I have found that there has been little communication or consideration of those who simply wish to have the freedom to not be religious or disagree with religious dogma.