Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom
Centre For Inquiry Canada continues to develop forward-thinking relationships to provide support and assistance for Canadian and international secular humanists. On December 22, 2014, Kevin Smith (Chair of the Board of Directors) and Eric Adriaans (National Executive Director) invited Eric Thomas (President of Humanist Canada) to participate in CFI Canada’s second meeting with Ambassador Andrew Bennett of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom (ORF).
CFI Canada and Humanist Canada (HC) share many concerns regarding the welfare and human rights of atheists, humanists and secular humanists. Eric Thomas, of HC commented: “it was evident that collective and concerted effort towards the development of “human dignity” on the international stage is a shared objective. The Humanist Canada focus on an inclusive perspective as part of its educational mandate is well served by participating with the Office of Religious Freedom led by Ambassador Bennett. We are committed to the development of new venues as active partners. The Humanist Canada Board and its national membership sincerely appreciate the opportunity to participate.
CFIC had previously met with Ambassador Bennett in the Spring of 2013 to discuss the mandate of the ORF and CFIC’s position that atheists and non-believers must be provided the same protections as religious minorities when facing persecution by religious governmental regimes. Since that meeting, CFIC has been pleased to observe Ambassador Bennett’s support of CFI’s work to support Raif Badawi at the United Nations Human Rights Council (CFI Transnational’s Michael DeDora advocacy work of June 2014) as well as his comments on the subject of freedom from religion:
If we don’t have religious freedom in society, it’s very hard to also have freedom of expression, freedom of association. All these different human rights are linked together. When we look at freedom of religion, it’s the freedom to openly — publicly or privately — profess your faith. It’s the freedom to engage in public worship in peace and security. It’s the freedom to engage in missionary activity. And here’s the real acid test: does a country allow people to freely convert to another faith? Conversely, does it not force them to change their faith? There must also be an understanding that people should be able to not have religious faith.
Interview with the United Church Observer from 09.2014 (http://www.ucobserver.org/interviews/2014/09/andrew_bennett/ )
In an obvious sense, the immediate objective for much of our advocacy work is to speak the truth about the plight of individuals and persecuted religious groups, to help build support for efforts that will alleviate their suffering. Including those persecuted for the choice not to adhere to a religious belief or to openly disagree with the established belief.
Comments from speech delivered to audiences in GTA (Oct 2014)
We also need to emphasise that religious freedom does not just mean freedom to worship as is reflected in Article 18. Indeed, it establishes a broad understanding of this fundamental human right. Put simply the international understanding of freedom of religion is multi-faceted incorporating: freedom to study one’s faith; freedom to preach it; freedom to engage in missionary activity; freedom to change one’s faith and freedom to hold no religious beliefs.
From a speech delivered in Warsaw, 26.09.2013, to the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM)
Kevin Smith said, “Our meeting was productive and I’m confident that Ambassador Bennett understands our view that freedom from religion should be a recognized part of the ORF’s work.”
Ambassador Bennett informed us that he believes “freedom of religion must incorporate the freedom to not have a religious belief,” and while he does not believe in freedom from religion, does feel that people must have “the freedom to embrace a non-religious set of beliefs or philosophy.”
The agenda for the meeting included discussions of:
- ORF’s “The Religious Freedom Fund”
- ORF’s duty to speak out against all faith-based discrimination, harassment, torture and human rights violations
- Canada’s Blasphemy law (Criminal Code Section 296) and its symbolic relationship to blasphemy laws in other states (the blasphemy law is a domestic matter not within the purview of the ORF)
- CFI Canada’s project to respond to international atheists seeking our support in repressive regimes
- Work that CFI, HC and ORF can do together to provide education on freedom from religion
Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director of CFI Canada said, “This was an important and constructive meeting. As educational charities and the leading voices for Canada’s atheist, secular humanist and humanist community – we must do all that we can to develop relationships within our movement and with government agencies such as the Office of Religious Freedom to ensure that our community is not left out. Ambassador Bennett continues to work with us toward concrete outcomes from our working relationship. I look forward to the work we will do together to ensure that the human rights of non-believer minorities are defended as rigorously as religious minorities.”
CFI Canada, Humanist Canada and the Office of Religious Freedom discussed educational opportunities and methods to leverage our relationships in 2015.
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