Sunday, April 17, 2011

Religious Freedom: It's Not About Secularism...

...At least not in the way 'secularists' believe

When the Conservative Party recently proposed the creation of an office within the department of Foreign Affairs dedicated to promoting religious freedom abroad, it was only a matter of time before they began to draw heat over the proposition.

The opposition is coming from various quarters: from the self-proclaimed secularists at the Centre for Inquiry to the thinly-veiled Islamists at the Canadian Islamic Congress.

The CIC's Wahida Valiante pointed to the Conservative Party's failure to deliver a proposed office that would promote democracy abroad by collaborating with foreign political parties. The Conservatives backed away from this proposal (which was probably for the best, as it was fraught with the possibility of interference in foreign domestic politics).

"Every country, every nation has their own laws to protect their citizens," Valiante declared. "We have our Charter rights in Canada. In that, our freedom to practice religion is guaranteed. That shows that Canada is a model in which diversity of religion is protected. We can only be a model to others."

To put it charitably, Valiante's statement is just untrue. There are no laws to protect religious freedom in countries like Iran, Saudia Arabia, China, Libya and a host of others. Moreover, Canada can do more than simply be a model of religious freedom. It can be an advocate of religious freedom. That's the point.

The Centre for Inquiry's Justin Trottier has reportedly suggested that religious freedom is a "sensitive area" for the government to venture into, and even suggested that the office could wind up taking sides in religious disputes.

Which is actually the polar opposite of what the office's mandate would be. Frankly, Trottier's objections are simply confusing.

Simply put, the establishment of an office to promote religious freedom isn't about secularism. At least not in the way Trottier seems to think.

Secularism cannot actually exist without religious freedom. Religious freedom, after all, entails the freedom to not be religious, and the freedom to be secular.

That kind of freedom is what this is about, and that's why the establishment of this office is so vital.

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