Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Andrew Bennett named to head Office of Religious Freedom - Politics - CBC News

I sent out a quick tweet on the below story:

Andrew Bennett named to head Office of Religious Freedom - Politics - CBC News:

I honestly don't know what to make of it? Obviously, I support religious freedom. The substance of my blogs on Crandall should suggest that. Indeed, I'm willing to take my support of religious freedom likely further than other people are (in Canada) in that I can countenance state funding of religious institutions (in some instances and with qualifications, see earlier blogs), including the support of institutions that appear to be exclusionist.

The quick way to address this story is to ask: why does this government believe that religious freedoms need to be supported by Canada and what can Canada do about supporting religious freedom in other countries? In other words, we can apply a quick test to see if the creation of this new office marks a real difference in Canadian foreign policy. Such a test might include the practical question: if Canada can do nothing to support religious freedom elsewhere ... why have this office? It is either (a) a false promise, (b) political, (c) a waste of money.

That, however, might be a tad ungenerous. After all, there might be good reason to support policies about which Canada can do nothing. We might, for instance, support a policy of gender equality or GLBT equality in other parts of the world where we have no influence in order precisely to make a statement (to other countries and ourselves) about our commitment to specific principles.

My quick thinking on this issue is that we should likely see how this office works in practice before making determinations about it. Personally, I think it could be an ethical morass and does not stand to do much that is useful in terms of actually helping people but ... let's wait and see.

In the meantime, perhaps we should think about domestic policy and some of the thorny issues that come up as a result of that. For instance, does freedom of religion mean changes to immigration and refugee policy? I'd argue that this is one way for Canada to "put its money where its mouth" is. Yet, Canadian immigration and refugee policy seem to be going the other way. What about hiring? I know this body is meant to not deal with Canada (theoretically, religious freedom is handled in Canada under human rights legislation and Charter rights). But, let's think about an example close to home: does freedom of religion mean that religious institutions need to support that policy regarding themselves? Can an atheist claim his freedom of religious is infringed if he is denied a job at Crandall?

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