The federal government held consultations this week on the construction of the Office of Religious Freedom. Questions and criticisms still remain.
Arvind Sharma, who teaches religious studies at McGill University, has just completed a book called Problematizing Religious Freedom.
Sharma argues that the very concept of religious freedom has become an excuse used by proselytizing religions, particularly Christianity, to convert people. He says that was the clear goal of the U.S. model from the start.
“My concern is that this office will be used … by missionary religions, especially by Christian missions, will be interpreted by them as giving them the right to proselytize,” Sharma says. “I agree that the right to change one’s religion is a part of religious freedom but I don’t agree that my right to change my religion is symmetrical with somebody else’s right to ask me to change my religion.”
If our government is going to spend $5 million every year to promote religious freedom, they need to first define what is means. As argued by some Americans, the similar US model was used to promote Christianity abroad so it’s important we don’t head down the same path.
Foreign Affairs minister John Baird gave a fluffy speech where he argued for the importance of the new office to promote human rights and religious freedom abroad. Yet, shouldn’t our Foreign Affairs department be doing that anyway, so why the need for a special office? Given the new office has no purpose that isn’t already covered by existing mandates, it leads me to think the government has special plans. My guess is they want to use the program to single out international action on behalf of targeted religions in order to gain votes in swing ridings.
I don’t have a problem promoting religious freedom as long as it includes all religions and no religion but did the consultations this week include any atheist representatives? Nope?