US Secretary of State John Kerry said a couple years ago that “If I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about today.”
With so many conflicts in the world having a religious dimension, it is critically important that Western governments understand that dimension and work to promote religious freedom and communal harmony.
In the last Parliament, our government created an Office of Religious Freedom within Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs, now Global Affairs. This office was and is fairly modest in scope with a budget of $5 million. But this office is punching above its weight. Most of its resources go directly to supporting programs in troubled regions of the world. And the office also helps Canadian public servants understand the important role that religion occupies in many international conflicts. It helps to make up for that religious knowledge gap which John Kerry was referring to.
When it comes to religious persecution, the numbers are staggering. Christians face more persecution today than they did during the period of the early church. Sikhs and Hindus in places like Afghanistan face significant persecution, which has led to a dramatic decline in their populations. Uyghur Muslims in China and Tatar Muslims in Russia are under increasing pressure and many human rights groups have recognized that what is happening to Yazidis, Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq is nothing short of genocide.
Canada needs to be involved in promoting religious freedom, tolerance, and pluralism around the world. The mandate of the Office of Religious Freedom is set to expire on March 31st and we have been calling on the government to renew its mandate and to let it continue to do its vital work. The work of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom is needed now more than ever.
By Garnett Genuis, MP
Deputy Critic for Human Rights and Religious Freedom