Leave it to Canadians to take up the cause of religious freedom around the world.
Atheists in Malaysia recently took a picture at a gathering, only to see it used against them as government officials called for a crackdown on everyone there. They wanted to know if there were any Muslims who had secretly left the faith, since that was a punishable offense in states run under Sharia Law.
Specifically, Shahidan Kassim, a minister in President Najib Razak‘s Cabinet, said that atheists in the country had to be “hunted down,” because their lack of religion amounted to illegal thought crimes.
Yesterday, Gretta Vosper, an atheist minister at West Hill United Church in Toronto, sent a letter to Canada’s Minister of International Affairs Chrystia Freeland urging government officials to take diplomatic action in the matter.
She posted the letter online for other Canadians who wanted to borrow the template and send it to their own representatives:
… We cannot stand idly by and watch Malaysia become another Bangladesh, indifferent to or even supportive of the murder of atheists and secular humanists. Canada has had a long and friendly relationship with Malaysia, dating back to the earliest days of that country’s founding. We continue to build on our sixty year history and share our Canadian values within our relationship. Those values include the protection of marginalized groups and advocacy for religious freedoms. The right to refuse religion, the freedom from religion must be just as strongly defended as the right to believe.
I urge you to reach out to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and remind him of his democratic obligations to protect all Malaysians, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. I urge you also to request that he publicly and swiftly denounce the words of Minister Kassim before they are used to spread fear, sanction violence, or lead to the murder of innocent civilians.
Vosper had special reason to take up this particular cause:
The congregation I serve has received permission to bring to Canada as a refugee a Bangladeshi atheist and his family. We chose this family because the father’s photograph has been so widely distributed across Bangladesh and elsewhere that he cannot be seen outside of the place he now hides, fearing for his life. The photograph of the happy gathering of atheists in Malaysia will be used to imperil their lives and to “hunt them down vehemently” as Minister Kassim has urged Malaysian citizens to do. All their lives are now in grave danger.
Whether her letter will result in action by the government remains to be seen, but what a powerful message it would send if a beacon of pluralism and democracy like Canada used its power to remind Malaysia that it’s being watched closely.
Atheists deserve protection in any free country, and Malaysia wouldn’t want to become one of those countries where daring to hold an unpopular opinion could warrant a death sentence or vigilantism.