This week, Stephen Harper launched his Office for the Promotion of Religious Freedom. Tasha Kheiriddin is puzzled:
Of all the Conservatives’ initiatives to date, the most bewildering is its newly created Office for the Promotion of Religious Freedom. The Tories are deploying five million dollars of taxpayers’ money — ostensibly to promote not a particular religion, but the freedom to practice religion in general. Not in Canada, mind you, but around the world, in places from Turkey to Tibet.
But the office is more than puzzling. It strikes at the very heart of Canadian democracy. Kheriddin writes:
True, most Canadian laws are derived from Judeo-Christian principles: do not steal, do not kill, love thy neighbour as thyself. But we have no state religion. While our tax system does allow exemptions for faith-based organizations, government does not otherwise promote the practice of religion in general, or of one faith in particular.
Even in our own country, we subordinate faith groups to general rules regarding respect for human rights. Our courts have held that the right to freedom of expression, the right to equality and the right to security of the person supersede the right to religion-based practices, or to prevent others from engaging in acts which offend religious sensibilities.
We tolerate religion in Canada -- all religions. But we have erected a wall between Church and State. The Catholic Church has forbidden abortions. The five prime ministers who preceded Stephen Harper were all Catholics. But abortion is legal in Canada. Mosques dot the Canadian landscape. But our courts are not guided by Sharia Law. We believe in freedom of religion. And we believe in freedom from religion.
So why have an Office of Religious Freedom? Mr Harper tells us that its mandate will be to promote freedom of religion abroad. Just how much freedom of religion will five million dollars buy abroad? The truth is that the OPRF, like all Harper initiatives, is about buying votes at home. That's what the GST cut was about -- even though it set up a structural deficit. That's what the Canada's Action Plan ads were about -- buying citizens' votes with their own money.
It's the perfect con.