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Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on as Dr. Andrew Bennett (right), shakes hands with Muslim cleric Lai Khan Malik after naming Mr. Bennett ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom in Maple, Ont., Feb.19, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on as Dr. Andrew Bennett (right), shakes hands with Muslim cleric Lai Khan Malik after naming Mr. Bennett ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom in Maple, Ont., Feb.19, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Conversation: Feb. 23 letters and other talking points of the week Add to ...

Is there anything more provocative than mixing politics and religion? The Harper government’s appointment of a relatively little-known Christian college professor to serve as Ottawa’s czar for international religious freedom drew passionate responses from our print and digital readers. So, is the new Office of Religious Freedom about politics or religion or human rights? Read on

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After centuries of religious wars and atrocities, perhaps an Office of Freedom from Religion would be more to the point.

Mary Jane Chamberlain, Toronto, letter

 

I get very nervous when I see the Canadian government getting into the God business, arbitrating religious disputes in far-off lands. Let the fanatics argue amongst themselves. Our taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to promote religion of any description.

Ian Nicholson, Fredericton, digital reader

 

It is my prayer that all developed nations should set up such an office to try to address the issue of persecution of minorities in various developing nations.

Inaugurating this office in an Ahmadiyya Muslim community centre shows that Canada is living up to its values of acceptance for all religions. Minorities such as Ahmadi Muslims who have integrated into Canadian society should be lauded for their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue amongst various religions.

Luqman Ahmad, Mississauga, letter

 

It was intolerance that led to my family’s coming to Canada in 1989, when I was barely 2. We were persecuted in Pakistan for being members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community – the same community whose mosque and community centre the Prime Minister chose for his official announcement of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.

On witnessing this occasion, I was reminded of something the late Mirza Tahir Ahmad, previous head of the community, once said: “My prayer is that Canada becomes all the world and all the world becomes Canada.” Amen!

Muneer Ahmad Khan, Ottawa

 

Lorna Dueck, in her column It’s About Rights, Not Politics (Feb. 20), says: “Count the dozens of warring conflicts on our planet and try to find one where religion isn’t complicit or at least a factor.” Sounds like we need an Office to Question Religion.

Tony Burt, Vancouver

 

Do we think what Andrew Bennett, the new religious-freedom envoy, thinks is going to change people’s minds in other countries? Really?

Alison Drain, Peterborough, Ont., digital reader

 

Lorna Dueck suggests that critics of the new Office of Religious Freedom misguidedly “howl” over an initiative that’s really about human rights, not politics. Stating that human rights are not about politics, however, seems the biggest howler of all.

Freedom of religion is a human right that developed through political, often violent, conflict in which the religiously devout were just as often the perpetrators as the victims. Devoting $5-million annually to protect this one human right is a political choice. Appointing the dean of an “unapologetically Christian” private college to head the office is also a political choice.

Before assuming the mantle of bringing religious freedom, Canada-style, to the world, Andrew Bennett might start by looking hard at issues at home, where some state-funded Christian hospitals deny women and men full access to contraception.

Pamela Klassen, professor, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, letter

 

Will this new office concern itself with the rights of persecuted atheists and religious skeptics? A statement made last fall by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird doesn’t sound encouraging: “We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defence in the same way persecuted religious minorities are.” It seems the Conservatives defend “freedom,” but in one direction only.

Carl Rosenberg, Vancouver, letter

 

How do you protect religious rights? By protecting civil rights. But the Harper government has a poor track record on protecting civil rights, and that’s because it doesn’t actually care about human rights. Their “free”-trade deals and omnibus bills have made that painfully clear.

Brandy Sudyk, Toronto, digital reader

 

How will Andrew Bennett decide which religious freedoms to defend if some faiths or sects claim the freedom to kill people they regard as heretics? Or the freedom to oppress their women?

The ambassador will say the choices are obvious, but they’ll only be obvious to him within the framework of his own Christian values.

James A. Duthie, Nanaimo, B.C., letter

 

How far will this office involve Canada in religious disputes in jurisdictions outside our country?

Sue Yates, Duncan, B.C., letter

 

I was wondering what our fearless leader plans to do with the information that Andrew Bennett obtains.

Knowing his enthusiasm for the military, would Stephen Harper engage the Canadian Forces in any crusades against religious persecution?

God knows where that could end up!

Michael Edwards, Bloomfield, Ont., letter

 

What would the satirist George Carlin think of the Office of Religious Freedom?

Wait, he’s already on the record:

“If churches want to play the game of politics, let them pay admission like everyone else.”

“I’m completely in favour of the separation of church and state. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.”

Bob Scott, Gibsons, B.C., letter

MORE LETTERS

Who are we?

So Canadians aren’t interested in the War of 1812 bicentennial or the bicentennial of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday but want to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage and the anniversary of the Charter (War of 1812 Extravaganza Failed To Excite Canadians, Poll Says – Feb. 21).

We don’t teach much history any more, perhaps because so much of it is stuff done by dead white males. What does get taught tends to be warm, cuddly stuff, like, yes, women’s suffrage and the Charter.

David Orr, Sherwood Park, Alta.

A jab too far?

Maggie Siggins (Royal Furor – letter, Feb. 21) says Kate Middleton managed to marry into the aristocracy. Well, she married into royalty, not the aristocracy, and she’s carrying the future king or queen of England.

I think that, if Hilary Mantel were as good looking and glamorous as the Duchess of Cambridge, there’d be no “royal furor.”

Gloria Boyd, Toronto

And still married

Re Date Night Dilemma (Life & Arts, Feb. 22): When our kids were small (long ago and far away), my husband and I had a much simpler and less stressful version of date night. We stayed home.

Kids were put to bed by 7, we cooked a nice meal and cracked open a decent bottle of wine. Candles on the kitchen table and, voilà, we had date night.

We did this every Saturday night for years. Cost next to nothing.

Jane McCall, Delta, B.C.

Let’s be smart

Stephen Ottridge (A Wheat-Free Life – letter, Feb. 20) says, “Do we conduct a double-blind study? Of course not,” in reference to gathering proof regarding wheat’s link to obesity.

Why not? Anecdotal evidence is never accurate and can never be trusted. Without controlling all factors, anecdotal “evidence” is worthless. How many fads, based on anecdotal reports, have been discredited, many after causing harm?

Let’s be smart about how we eat, and base our decisions on fact, not on unsubstantiated personal opinions of causality.

John Herberman, Toronto

 

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