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?
First up is Clifford Orwin who argues for the office because he sees religious coercion as a special case:
The best way to understand religious freedom is precisely as freedom from such coercion.
From this, it follows that religious freedom equally protects the religious and the non-religious. The believer can no more coerce the atheist than the atheist can coerce the believer. I don’t fault the Harper government for not billing its new entity as the office for the Equal Protection of Believers and Non-Believers.
However, to defend religious freedom is, in fact, to vindicate such equal protection. Who benefits from the purging of all coercion from the realm of religion? Obviously not only the religious.
The nod towards atheists is welcomed and I agree that us non-religious have a lot to gain by promoting religious freedom. However, I couldn’t find an argument why stopping religious coercion is any different than any other human right violation. This makes the creation of the office suspicious because the government might have something else in mind.
Janet Keeping is skeptical of the government’s intentions:
[A]re we confident that the office will promote freedom of religion, not religion itself? The advocacy of human rights is a legitimate activity for government, but the direct promotion of religion is not. Indeed, the promotion of religion by government would be unconstitutional: it is crystal clear in Canadian law, as articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada, that freedom of religion includes the right to not follow any religion at all. The right to reject religion is every bit as protected in Canadian law as the right to follow the faith of one’s choosing. Is the Office of Religious Freedom going to advance both with equal gusto, or is its real reason for existence to promote religion?
So one article doesn’t make a point and the other is a list of rhetorical one-liners. In any case, I have high expectations for this series. Maclean’s does a good job balancing opinions without giving up space for crazies and extremists on any side so I expect lots of blog fodder over the coming weeks.