I confess I had not given it a lot of thought until I listened to the voice mail message on my answering machine from the producer of the CFAX morning news talk-show.

The voice on my message machine asked if I would be willing to be interviewed on radio about the Prime Minister’s anticipated announcement that his government was about to establish an “Office of Religious Freedom.”

A little frantic research informed me that, based on the model of the US Dept. of State Office of International Religious Freedom, the Conservative Government was proposing to set up a Canadian Office of Religious Freedom.

According to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the gesture comes in the face of the government’s awareness that there is

a growing wave of persecution against people on the basis of faith.

Stephen Harper has pointed to serious religious persecution of Christians and Bahais in Iran, Shia Muslim pilgrims in Iraq, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Christians in Nigeria, Uighur Muslims in China, and others.

Harper claims that in the new Office of Religious Freedom

We’re not trying to oppose, we’re trying to respect people’s own religions, their own faith choices, or non-faith choices, and not impose those choices on others. Just as it is important that religion be respected in a pluralistic and democratic society by those who don’t share religion, it is likewise expected in a very religious society that those who don’t share faith will be respected.

Mr. Kenney describes the Office of Religious Freedom as

a strong champion of human dignity, freedom of conscience and part of that is freedom of religion including for people who choose to have no faith.

What I had hoped I might get the chance to say in my interview on CFAX yesterday morning, but was unable to work into the conversation, was that, as a Christian I am committed to following the teachings of Jesus. And Jesus teaches me to have respect for the freedom and dignity of all people. It seems to me therefore that anything that might promote the freedom of all people to exercise their religion in tune with their convictions is probably a good thing.

I wanted to go on to say, of course, that freedom in the Christian tradition is not understood to be freedom to do anything at all that we feel we want to do. The freedom that is upheld by Christian tradition is the freedom to live in tune with the deep reality of our true nature. We are only free to live in relationships that are respectful of all people. We are never free to choose any behaviour that would in any way bring harm to another, or diminish the physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being of another person.

The other issue I was hoping we might explore in the interview, but alas did not come up, was the vexed question of the relationship between Church and State.

If I remember correctly, it was Pierre Trudeau who famously said that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. In the same way, it seems to me that the government has a limited role to play in the churches of the nation. As long as faith communities are abiding by the laws of the land as they apply to all people, they should be free to conduct themselves in tune with their religious beliefs and teachings.

If religious organizations do not want governments telling them how they can conduct their spiritual practices, those same organizations might want to be cautious about benefiting from special government protections and privileges.