Why is Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom Ignoring Atheists?

A couple of weeks ago, Canada opened up an “Office of Religious Freedom” with a three-pronged mandate:

  • protect, and advocate on behalf of, religious minorities under threat;
  • oppose religious hatred and intolerance; and
  • promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.

At the outset, that doesn’t sound too bad. Hell, Sanal Edamaruku and Alexander Aan and Alber Saber could use some help!

So where’s the problem?

Well, check out a speech made last September by John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Relations, whose office is responsible for the new Office of Religious Freedom:

We strongly condemn all attacks on places of worship, whether at temples, synagogues, shrines, mosques, gurdwaras, or churches. It is of utmost importance that every individual is able to practice their faith in safety and security.

Time and time again, Canada has spoken out against discrimination, and violations of freedom, including freedom of religion.

We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defense in the same way persecuted religious minorities are.

We speak of the right to worship and practice in peace, not the right to stay away from places of worship.

There’s also the fact that the government made no effort to include non-believers as consultants in forming the new office.

If you look at the news releases regarding religious freedom, the names of persecuted atheists are found nowhere.

And now, the backlash is growing.

The Centre For Inquiry Canada has made this video detailing the problems with this new office and the government’s complete lack of concern for (or even acknowledgment of) atheists who suffer at the hands of the religious:

All they’re looking for is inclusion. You can’t say you’re working for religious freedom and then ignore the plight of many atheists worldwide.

CFI Ottawa has a sample letter for Canadians to send to their officials. It reads in part:

The Office of Religious Freedom mandate does not include mention of the non-religious or those with no religious belief. Yet there are many non-believers around the world who are subject to persecution and serious violations of their human rights, including unjust imprisonment, beatings, and even execution. I would like to see the Office’s mandate extended to include protection and equal treatment for non-religious people and groups in Canada and around the world. The Office should begin by giving a voice to Canadian secular, humanist and atheist groups by inviting them to advise the Government of Canada “on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming relating to protecting and advocating on behalf of non-religious minorities under threat.”

Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun is arguing for atheists’ inclusion, too:

The Conservative government is following the lead of the U.S. and establishing a $5 million office, run by a Roman Catholic academic, to speak out for religious freedom around the world. There is no doubt religious repression is rising in a number of places.

But will the new office be fair to all, including atheists?

That’s what many are asking, given that the Conservative government consulted mostly conservative Christians before unveiling the office.

Much like the U.S. Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, atheists are treated as if we don’t exist, even when the evidence for real, serious atheist persecution is all around us.

As always, we’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for equal treatment. I’m used to this sort of stuff happening in my country, but I thought Canada was supposed to be better.

For more on the subject, Godless Poutine has been writing multiple posts about the Office of Religious Freedom over the past several weeks and is a fantastic source of information.

(Thanks to Sean for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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