Debating the Office of Religious Freedom

Welcome to The New Missionaries series, in partnership with the Canadian International Council


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.

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Debating the Office of Religious Freedom

  1. A worthwhile endeavour – I have not yet heard anything that convinces me the office isn’t bogus, grandstanding crap, but am welcome to new and reasonable arguments on the topic.

  2. It’s one of those things that sounds virtuous, but the devil is in the details.

  3. I think Office of Religious Freedom is really bad idea for a bunch of reasons.

    Feds borrow billions of $$$ already so this is colossal waste of money, it will be ineffective because I am 100% certain Canadian bureaucrats have not figured out effective way to stop people from squabbling about who’s God is correct, people’s faith is strong and peculiar and we mess with their faith at our peril, overseas service can be hazardous for ngo types … etc. 

  4. Sounds to me like another one of those offices that will do nothing and will cost us a lot. Part of the  Economic Action Plan perhaps ?

    • These offices are a real boom for Ottawa office decorators if nothing else. 

  5. Why take this talking points office seriously?

    I predict this office will be as significant as that other Conservative touchstone Democratic Reform. The Conservatives have being going on (and on) about that, especially Senate Reform, since before they were the CRAP and all it has amounted to is one innocuous and ignored blue ribbon report and a website where first one Minister (Fletcher) and now another (Uppal) post media releases that sound good and promise to do significant things, but never follow through.

    I just don’t see the newsworthiness of yet another talk shop when the government has so few examples of  concrete actions let alone results on its own stated agenda. As a reporter shouldn’t you at some point say that unless they have some actual change or improvement or impact, it isn’t news?

    • Indeed, Kenney himself directly attacked Muslim rights here in Canada by demanding face coverings be removed for the citizenship oath.  With luck, the editorial staff of MacLeans will see fit to take the government to task on this file, as their failings become apparent.

  6. Hope the Aga Khan was right when he called Canada “the most pluralistic country on the face of the Earth” and “a beacon to the world”  – Ismailis have been persecuted for centuries.

    Can you teach tolerance?

    • Only by example.

  7. I’d like an “Office of Freedom from Religion” but I can’t expect that to happen when Harper and his crew feel we’re close the “The End Times.”

    • When has Harper ever said anything about “The End Times”?

      • Harper is evangelical.

      • http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20060220_121848_121848&source=srch

        He’s evangelical — they are the one’s whose tune seems to be “Gimme that End Time  Religion.”

        Don’t worry Rick, I was born and raised in Alberta — I attended enough of these evangelical places of worship to come to an informed and rational opinion about what they believe. I grew up with Earnest Manning and his “Back to the Bible Hour.”  

        • Chretien and Martin are Roman Catholic. That means they belong to a religion that “won’t
          ordain women, strongly opposes abortion and
          divorce, condemns homosexuality as the most base of sin” [quoted part
          lifted from the Canadian Charger article and reapplied to Catholicism]. Yet, people were able to see past their religion and judge them on their policies.

          So, if someone has an issue with Harper’s policies, by all means have at ’em, including the Office of Religious Freedom. But for the life of me I can’t see why dragging the guy’s personal beliefs into things is considered to be part of a political discussion. And I always find it interesting that people are so quick to pile on evangelicals when the beliefs of the RC Church offer an equally target rich environment, if you’re into those kinds of cheap shots.

          – I don’t see the point of an Office of Religious Freedom
          – I’m agnostic, bordering on atheism
          – I was raised as a RC

          • They didn’t jump on Chretien or Martin for being RC, because it didn’t interfere with their job.

            In fact both men were threatened with excommunication over abortion and gays….but did their job anyway.

            Harper drags his religion into his job.

          • How does he drag his religion into his job? Does he say something like “my religion says abortion is wrong, so I believe abortion should by law be illegal/constrained/whatever”?

            Or are you just assuming that he drags his religion into his job despite the lack of explicit statements linking policies to religious beliefs?

            And, given his lack of desire to touch issues re abortion and gays (2 extremely prominent issues among social conservatives), it’s kinda difficult to know why I should believe he is letting his religion dictate his governing.

            AFAICT, he has decided that re-election is far more important than forcing his personal religious values (whatever they may be) on Canada.

          • @ce6222da41f3a7e3788ab6eba46b74f2:disqus 

            You do see that you’re on a thread about an official religious office right?

            You do remember he won’t fund abortions overseas, right?

            You do see he’s gung-ho for Israel…right?

            You do see we have a creationist in charge of science, right?

            You do remember Cons promoting ‘debates’ on abortion and capital punishment in the last few weeks,right?

        • He asked you when Harper has ever said anything about the “End Times”. Neither of your links contains an answer to that.

          • Please read CC’s objection again.

          • @2de9a34d2374336ce3b54778a078d804:disqus 

            I read it just fine the first time.

            I just thought I’d short circuit the long tedious back-and-forth people do on matters like this.

            Unless you want to argue that Harper is lying to his church,  he believes we’re in the end times.

          • Okay, how about implication by association. Who did Harper meet with (pretty well first) when he became PM? “Dr.” McVety and the Ottawa Church Ladies. Not the Premiers, not the Mayors but his religious affiliates.

            If Harper is going to be going to an evangelical Christian church then it must follow that one (or all) of the following are true:

            1) Harper goes to an evangelical church that has a premise that the “end-times” are nigh. That is supported in one of the links I provided.
            It wouldn’t make sense for a guy like Harper to waste his time if he didn’t actually believe the 4 main tenets as proscribed by this church. Best to keep this aspect quiet because you know full well how this would play out if Harper started acting like Trost.
            2) Harper doesn’t actually believe any of that stuff but it looks good on him when he’s trolling for votes.
            3) Harper can’t stand to be at home Sunday morning because Laureen expects him to get the weekly chores done.

            You choose Colby because he’s either going because he believes in what his pastor says or he’s a cynical hypocrite who is attending to get those votes from his supporters.

    •  I would guess that “freedom from religion” will be a major focus of this office, ie. promoting basic human rights in Islamic theocracies.

      • How about women’s rights in Africa where the Catholic church dominates?

  8. Great in theory, but it will always be trumped by our financial relationships with the worst offenders. Of particular note because of our PM’s recent trip there is China, who continue to violently interfere with the religious freedom of numerous groups, such as the Tibetans, Uyghurs, and the Falun Gong movement. 

    What’s the point of this office if the desire to do business with offending countries necessitates ignoring their lack of religious freedom? There isn’t any, so it’s a big waste of money.

  9. I can’t see any point in ‘debating’ this, since the govt has already set it up.

    And unless we’re prepared to take in large numbers of religious refugees,  all it can do is talk.

    So we have a new govt dept that costs money, and can only talk….from the party that promised less govt and less wasteful spending.

    If we MUST promote something in other people’s countries it would make more sense to promote political freedom or economic freedom….but this is just red meat for the rubes.

    Another dog and pony show.

  10. If we’d kept the gun registry around and ditched the office of religious freedoms we’d be a million up this year.

    • Given the rules we are currently playing by, that makes you a supporter of religious persecution.  You should be ashamed of yourself!

      • Yes – can’t deny those gun worshippers their freedom to worship as they see fit, without the government looking over their shoulders. LOL!

  11. “And we look forward to hearing from you too.” 

    Wells, are you okay?

  12. I’m curious what happens when religions conflict? When one religion says that those of another religion must be killed, for instance.  How much religious freedom do we support? Do we pick and choose what tenets of a religion we’ll support people’s freedom to practice?

    • I assume it will promote exactly the kind of religious freedom we have here. So this office will not support female genital mutilation or honour killing or the right to wear a burka in France, etc. I am positive hypocrisy will be a consistent criticism of this office’s activities. No matter what it does that is probably inevitable.

      • That tends to be a problem when we decide we’re going to support made up crap.

      • Hold it – what side would it be on re the right to wear a burka?

        • Again I am only guessing, but what I mean is it wouldn’t take a side on every freedom of religion controversy taking place in every country. France is a democratic country in which the right to worship freely is broadly enjoyed. It’ll figure out what it wants to do. What this will exist to do is put diplomatic emphasis on the right to worship freely in countries where that right is non-existant (the dark countries on the infographic).

          • You didn’t answer what I asked you.  You mentioned several specific things this agency would stand against and it wasn’t clear what side you thought it would be on  regarding the right to wer a veil?  ‘Dark countries on the infographic’ – which countries are you talking about?

      • Which is odd, because wearing a burka is a right we do enjoy here in Canada, even though the Harper government seems against it.

    • In other words the focus of the office (I assume) will be Islamic states and China, repressive countries that have a long way to go before they reach any debatable religious freedom issues, and not ongoing debates in Europe on how to accommodate (or not) Muslims. 

  13. Good in theory, but why have that when you have ambassadors?

    • When ambassadors say things it’s supposed to have consequences, silly.

  14. Given this government’s pathetic record in foreign affairs, this skunk works will just be a front behind which they’ll continue to sow ideological mischief abroad. And taxpayers will fund it.

    I’d bet the farm on it.

  15. Let us not preach to the world about how they should live. Let us keep a separation of Church and State. Let us not arrogate ourselves that Mr Harper’s Christianity is the superior creed. We do not need to become the world’s spiritual advisor.

    All this office will do, within Canada, other than costing us money, is to “divide” rather than “unite” and point our “differences” rather than “similarities”.

    Look south of the border to see the effect of allowing religion to interfere with politics and government.

  16. I received the e-mail promoting this new debate series entitled: “The New Missionaries: Should Canada Promote Religious Freedom Abroad?” (http://www.opencanada.org/the_…. It certainly gets off on the wrong foot with the reference to “new missionaries.” The Government of Canada clearly has no intention to proselytize religion domestically or internationally.. So why is the CIC being so wrong-headed in framing the debate in this way?

    I think the bottom line is that for the majority of the people of the world who are people of faith the importance of the freedom to practice their faith openly and without fear of harassment is self-evident. This is because for people of faith there is nothing more important than their faith. They are prepared to suffer imprisonment, deprivation, death rather than give up the precious belief that defines their lives, identities and souls. Nothing is more painful to them than the desecration of their holy places and the violation of their religious symbols and sacred objects.

    These facts are evidently troubling to some who lack faith in their lives. They therefore deride the noble project of the Government of Canada to make promotion of religious freedom a central priority in Canadian foreign policy They attempt to reduce it to banal political motives.

    They are wrong about this.

  17. I’ve got a case of Religious Persecution righthere in Canada that isnt getting any Tory Grease … maby this could be a first Case for the New Office. I have been trying to get a Harper response http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Prime_Minister_Stephen_Harper

    I dare you to bring my Case to his attention or else you can continue the Candian way of Persecuting  me by denying to adress an actual and real situation to the point of aiding in my death.

    I have a fax 705-542-9111 that I can be reached with for more info.

  18. I must say that I find that you have not interviewed or asked questions of any Canadian Atheist leader–and there are several. 

    Are American philosophers required to define or approve our foreign policy now?

    Doug Thomas

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