Only Two Cheers for Religious Freedom

The full article was published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 15, 2012

Discussing democracy in his 1938 essay “What I Believe” E. M. Forster provocatively writes that “(t)wo cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.” Democracy deserves credit for contributing to a decent public sphere, he says; but it can’t be lauded unreservedly since the private sphere of personal relationships–for him the most important sphere of human existence–falls outside its ambit.

In a similar iconoclastic perspective, it may be said that religious freedom is an ideal worthy of two cheers but not three. It’s a thought that arises as public debate heats up around Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom, soon expected to be launched within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Announced by the Harper government in the spring of 2011, the office is intended to promote religious freedom and oppose religious persecution around the world.

During its planning stages, the office has garnered criticism for the apparent selectivity of its focus. Much of the government’s messaging to date about the project’s rationale has concerned the persecution of Christians abroad; and Judeo-Christian faiths were predominant among the six invited panellists at a DFAIT consultation event last October….


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