Calling the freedom to worship “a core human right … that is under increasing threat around the world,” Andrew P. W. Bennett, Canada’s new Ambassador of Religious Freedom, pledged his nation’s support for those believers, worldwide, whose rights are in danger in comments delivered to an audience of religious liberty advocates on April 18.
“We are deeply concerned about the situation in various parts of the world where individuals, including Ahmadiyya Muslims, Bahá’ís, Chaldean Catholics and Coptic Orthodox, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews and Muslim Rohingyas, among others, experience difficulty in their ability to worship and practice their faith in peace,” Bennett told approximately 150 guests at the annual Liberty Religious Freedom Dinner, co-sponsored by Liberty magazine, the North American Religious Liberty Association and the International Religious Liberty Association.
As was the case in 2012 when the Honorable John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Minister, was the dinner speaker, the event was held at Canada’s embassy in Washington, D.C.
“Religious freedom does not just mean freedom to worship. It also means freedom to study one’s faith; freedom to preach it; freedom to engage in missionary activity; freedom to change one’s faith and— yes—freedom to hold no religious beliefs,” Bennett, a scholar who was a professor and dean at Ottawa’s Augustine College before his February 2013 appointment, said.
He added, “The need for action in defending freedom of religion in many countries is urgent. Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We are called upon to act and to defend the human rights of all. We must do so, because religious freedom is not a theological issue, it is a human issue. Every society must recognize the basic human dignity of all, regardless of faith. We all possess free will. We must have the freedom to exercise this in matters of faith.”
Bennett explained, “Canada is a pluralistic society of many cultures and faiths. But we share a common humanity with people from the world over. As such, it is our common duty to defend the rights of the afflicted and give voice to the voiceless.”
He pledged Canada’s support, not only for global religious freedom, but also to remove what he called unfair restrictions on the activities of minority religions in various nations around the world.
“Religious groups who face persecution will know that they have a friend and supporter in Canada. We will continue to strongly condemn all attacks on places of worship, whether at temples, synagogues, shrines, mosques, gurdwaras or churches. It is of utmost importance that every individual be able to practice his or her faith free from the threat of violence and discrimination,” Bennett said.
“Many religious groups face unfair legislative and regulatory restrictions that can strip away fundamental democratic freedoms,” he continued. “Freedoms that include the basic right to vote, as we’ve seen with Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan. These restrictions placed on religious groups under the guise of maintaining order and security undermine basic dignity and certainly the human rights of too many around the world.”
Bennett said, “Canada is prepared to lead, with our partners and allies, to promote the dignity of the human being and each human’s inherent right to profess and practice their faith freely. We do so knowing that societies that protect religious freedom are most likely to protect other fundamental freedoms.”
Two other individuals were honored at event. Charles C. Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., received the national award, presented by Liberty magazine editor Lincoln Steed. Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, received the international award, presented John Graz, secretary-general of the IRLA.
More information on Liberty magazine, which is sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, can be found online at www.libertymagazine.org.