The CBC seems to be alleging there is yet another evangelical conspiracy afoot, since Prime Minister Harper's government continues to disappoint conspiracy enthusiasts who expect theocracy to break any moment. This time, the conspiracy is hiding in plain sight: the forthcoming Canadian Office of Religious Freedom.
And of course there are plenty of reasons to be bitter at the government. Despite holding broad consultations (on the true breadth of which we have only their words of assurance), very little on this Office has been promoted or even talked about. There is, naturally, the indignation of religious communities and non-governmental associations that were not invited in these first rounds, upset partly because of the important appearance of inclusivity but mostly because they didn't get invited to the parties. This especially shouldn't surprise anyone at Amnesty International, given its recent and public exchanges with Minister Jason Kenney. Their invitation probably didn't get lost in the mail.
The invitation list is spawning indignation from those who, as yet, have not been invited. Take one invitee, Thomas Farr: Farr is one of the world's best regarded diplomats and clearly a VIP in any discussion on religious freedom. In the CBC's report he is outed for his Catholicism, a fact that is plainly available to anyone with the power of Google.
But it's not just Farr's Catholicism which invalidates him. He is also American. And there are few things, the CBC wants us to think, that are more unnerving than learning about religion and its freedoms from Americans.
The American Office of Religious Freedom, for which Farr once worked, was established in 1998 under President Clinton, and has a much longer history of supporting religious freedom broadly understood than the dismissive and critical assessment the CBC renders: "promoting Christianity overseas." To make this criticism, apart from interviews with Farr, Robert Seiple or others who worked in the establishment of that Office, is sloppy journalism and plainly wrong. This Office continues to enjoy bi-partisan support in America in a time when almost nothing does.
To accuse Minister Baird of organizing the Canadian Office as a conditioning agent for Evangelical proselytism, based on almost no evidence of the constitution of that Office except the list of speakers at a single consultation, is apocryphal fear mongering.
To argue that America has no tradition of multiculturalism is another debate, but to suggest by doing so that it is therefore incapable of a serious practice of religious freedom is bizarre. America, unlike Canada, has a constitutionally enshrined separation of church and state and has long been an international advocate of religious freedom. In fact, despite the freedom of religion being included in numerous conventions and declarations of the United Nations, only the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany have something even resembling what Canada is proposing. To not even invite an American perspective to a consultation on such an Office would be ignorant and rude.
Finally, pause and ask why there are so many Christians, or why Minister Baird is going to lengths to meet with so many Muslims. Theocratic conspiracy theories, from McGill Professor Arvind Sharma—the sole CBC interviewee despite no discernible connection to the politics of the Office—may prove cathartic for CBC readers, but the Office of Religious Freedom in the United States tends towards interventions in the cases of Christians and Muslims because Christians and Muslims make up more than half the world's population, and American foreign policy tends to be more active in regions where this is even more so the case.
So when Thomas Farr writes, as the CBC reports, that Islamic extremism is more of a threat to American security than Serbian Christian-nationalism he is referring to actual incidents of violence against Americans. It is not a moral equivocation or religiously intolerant to say this. It is true. Serbian Christian nationalism, awful as it is, does not have as one of its stated goals the death of America. You can imagine why America might take more interest in one over the other.
Reports like those of the CBC may be partly the fault of an unnecessarily closed-door government climate, but they are most certainly the fault of speculative and damaging journalism. Canada was, and remains indebted to the expertise of people like Thomas Farr, and to ignorantly drag his—and others'—religious convictions and expertise through the mud on such a shady basis is misleading and wrong.