The federal government's creation of what it terms an Office of Religious Freedom is not off to a good start. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, mentor of the new office, has created a panel to help lay out parameters for the proposed office. The panel is in itself hardly representative of religious tolerance. It consists of four Christians (two Catholics and two evangelicals) and two Jews. It appears anything outside the Judeo-Christian tradition is beyond the pale. No Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., need apply and—needless to say—no atheists. Even Christians from moderate Protestant denominations were excluded. Oddly, the branches of Christianity selected are two of the most intolerant.
Omitting a Muslim representative particularly stands out. There are twice as many Muslims as Jews in Canada, they are the fastest growing of our non-Christian faiths, they compose the world's second largest religion, and they have been most in the public eye, yet they are omitted in favour of two Jewish representatives.
Also conspicuous by their absence are representatives from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Although their absence is, perhaps, not surprising. A neutral human-rights group may have made their religious colleagues uncomfortable by challenging them about their own intolerance, such as the vicious, Christian-inspired gay-bashing currently going on in Africa.
Religion is, after all, an arena of intolerance. Religions tend to be their own greatest enemy. The biggest threat to the freedom of one religion is usually another religion. Who has persecuted Christians more down through the years if not other Christians? Baird's panel could clearly use some neutral participants.
The makeup of the panel leaves one wondering if the object of the new office will be not so much promotion of religious freedom as promotion of Judeo-Christian proselytizing. In any case, as an atheist I am suspicious of singling out religion for concern about freedom. If we are to have an office to defend and promote freedoms, it should apply to all freedoms. Now that might be worth a few taxpayer dollars.