Raymond J. de Souza, “a Roman Catholic priest and well-known newspaper columnist,” is
honoured to have been appointed the inaugural chair of the [External Advisory Committee (EAC)] on religious freedom, which brings together Canadians who know that the religious liberties we have traditionally enjoyed in Canada are increasingly under attack around the world. That Canada’s foreign policy would give priority to that concern is consistent with our tradition of defending liberal values abroad.
de Souza’s description of the EAC’s mandate makes it clear that the EAC will promote and defend religious liberty: persecuted non-believers abroad need not apply for protection.
In an article in the National Post, de Souza focuses on two threats to religious liberty:
illiberal state action, ranging from restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion to violent persecution . . . [and] non-state violence visited upon religious believers and their houses of worship.
However, he appears to be more concerned that “[r]espect for holy places (synagogues, churches and mosques) is diminishing” but admits that while “[l]ethal violence in the house of the Lord is not new,” it is “sacrilege compounding murder” when people are attacked and killed in places they believe are sanctuaries. de Souza’s article does not mention non-believers or apostates like Raif Badawi, for whom there are no sanctuaries.
The “some two dozen religious leaders — and one agnostic — from across the country” who are members of the External Advisory Committee need to work to protect the non-religious as well as the religious believers. They should work toward securing the freedom of Raif Badawi, so he can benefit from the immigration certificate issued by the Quebec government and join his wife and children in Sherbrooke.
de Souza’s conclusion,
To contribute to [religious liberty] in a small way along with fellow Canadians of many traditions is a blessing.
makes his article a homily in both senses of the word. Governments do not confer blessings; they appoint people to positions. Although the EAC is over populated with religious leaders which does not reflect the number of non-believers in Canada (24%), let’s hope the Committee incorporates secular humanism, reason, science and critical thinking as well as religion as it works to protect and defend liberal values abroad.