On February 19, the Government of Canada officially opened its Office of Religious Freedom.
I had a look at the Office’s web page and I’m not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. Why? I could find no mention of those of us who do not believe in any gods. I’m forced to assume that this new governmental department fails to represent the beliefs of 20% to 30% of all Canadians, depending on what statistics you reference.
But wait! When the office opened, the ambassador of religious freedom, Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, said in a speech,
All people of faith and, again, those who choose not to have faith, need to be protected, their rights need to be respected. That’s what this office is about.
I’m deeply troubled at how Ambassador Bennett completely misunderstands the nature of atheism. One does not choose not to have faith. Rather, one simply doesn’t believe in any of the gods. The result is a lack of faith. Nor do I expect the ambassador to attempt to learn more about atheism. The ambassador’s biography states “he is in the process of completing a part-time degree in theology in Eastern Christian Studies at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.”
Further, despite the government’s claim that it widely consulted organizations before creating the office, “Humanist Canada and another group known as Centre for Inquiry (CFI) were quick to note that no secular organizations were consulted about the creation of the office, nor were they invited to the official announcement Tuesday of the new ambassador,” according to the CBC.
Rather than support freedom of belief and represent all Canadians, the Harper government chose to support freedom of religion and ignore the beliefs of a quarter of the people it is supposed to represent.