Top 10 reasons why Office of Religious Freedom is a bad idea

TorontoSun.com – opinion/columnists
Posted: Saturday, January 07, 2012.   By Warren Kinsella, Qmi Agency

Foreign Affairs minister John Baird believes in religious freedom. Just ask him.

In interviews in recent days, Baird — not someone we’d regard as a regular churchgoer — has been trumpeting the Conservative Party’s election promise to create a $20-million Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) within Foreign Affairs. “Freedom of religion is one of the first things in the Charter, it’s one of the first things in the Bill of Rights, it’s front and centre in the UN Declaration of Human Rights — it’s an essential human right,” Baird told The Canadian Press.

Now, I can’t recall Baird or his government being particularly enthusiastic about the Charter before — his boss, Stephen Harper, once called it “seriously flawed” because it promotes equality — but let’s give Baird the benefit of the doubt, shall we?

Personally, I think this initiative — which the Opposition has largely been silent about — is a very bad idea. Here’s 10 reasons why:

1. It involves government in matters of religion. Government should leave religion alone, and vice-versa. There’s a wall between church and state, and for good reason.

2. As noted, the ORF will cost $20 million, minimum, over four years. In times like these, we don’t need yet more layers of bureaucracy. We need fewer bureaucrats, not more.

3. The Americans did something similar in the late 1990s and there have been allegations it shows a bias against Muslims and a bias for Christians. That’s not an example we should be copying.

4. As quite a few folks have already noted, it’s clear this thing is ripe for political abuse: An October invitation-only assembly with Baird didn’t even invite Sunni or Shia Muslims — two groups, coincidentally, who don’t vote Conservative much.

5. It appears the office will focus on promoting Judeo-Christian traditions, and nobody else’s. Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and First Nation religious leaders were also excluded from Baird’s secretive fall meeting. None vote Conservative with great frequency — but they all represent millions of faithful Canadians.

6. A projected $500,000 is going to operate ORF annually. So, where will the other $4.5 million go? Baird and his Reformatories haven’t said. That alone should make everyone suspicious.

7. That’s not all, the new office won’t report to Parliament. Unlike the U.S. religious-freedom office, it isn’t multi-partisan, either. Baird runs it. Given that Baird is easily the most partisan Conservative MP in the House of Commons, that’s not encouraging. Also, do we really think religious extremists in other nations are going to listen, even for a minute, to preachy Baird sermons about freedom? Seriously?

8. The Pew Forum found that Christians are persecuted in 130 countries and Muslims in 117. Is the Harper regime saying the former matter more than the latter? It sure looks like it.

9. The ORF potential boondoggle, as Amnesty International and human rights experts have noted, is being set up behind closed doors. None of them have been consulted. Why not? Evangelicals and Conservative-friendly organizations, meanwhile, have dominated the discussions to date. That’s not right.

10. Even my friends at Sun Media have editorialized against this thing. They, like me, feel it’s a bad idea on many, many levels.

A regular commenter on my website, meanwhile, came up with another compelling reason to oppose the creation of a multi-million-dollar bureaucracy dedicated to promoting Conservative Party values on a global scale. Said he: “Judging others by our values, and imposing them on other societies and civilizations,” is wrong.

And it is.

There is no question that where there is religious persecution, abuses of human rights flourish. So, too, wars: Throughout history, many have started at the intersection between faiths.

But an Office of Religious Freedom is not going to change any of that. It may give John Baird a few feel-good talking points to wave around at his next international conflab.

But it isn’t going to make the world a better place.

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