Well, Fr. Raymond de Souza never got back to me about his wild claim that the Office of Religious Freedom actually said anything at all in defense of a jailed atheist in Turkey. I only posted to his Twitter account. Maybe he missed that. No surprise there.
But you know who I do think was a little surprised during the Michael Enright panel discussion about religion's place in the public square: The Public God? - panelist Janet Epp Buckingham.
It happened towards the beginning of the audience questions and I'll go into it below. But for now I'll take a few guesses. Perhaps she came to a realization that her 'private' Christian university is still given tax breaks which amount to public funding? Or maybe her surprise was over anyone even questioning the privilege inherent for religious institutions such as Trinity Western University? Perhaps she was just annoyed to have to point out that religious institutions deserve our public money but can behave however they please.
During the panel discussion, which is only partly available over at CBC, but is still over at Stitcher, moderator Michael Enright asked the panelist what religion's place is in the public sphere.
Janet Buckingham (JB) (7:57) I think religion should have a place at the table like other interests or identities. It shouldn't be excluded. It has a lot to add to public discourse but it shouldn't have a privileged place and certainly institutional religion shouldn't have a privileged place.How unexpectedly reasonable. I like that she emphasized that institutional religion should definitely not have a privileged place; like private Christian university.
Alas, my relief was not to last. Later in the discussion, Moustafa Bayoumi, asked Buckingham about whether Trinity Western University - a Christian school at which she is currently an Associate Professor and that forbids their students from homosexual relationships - actually receives any federal funds.
Moustafa Bayoumi (MB) (33:30) I have a question for Janet if I may. Are there public funds also for the university or is it fully private?You know, I agree with Moustafa to a point. He went on to talk about Bob Jones University and how their backward racist views eventually cost them their tax-exempt status; or in other words, their public supplemental funding.
JB It is a fully private university.
MB So there are no public funds there?
MB So in that case, I think that in a pluralistic complex society that we also have to admit the space for those things we may find objectionable. So I actually have no problem with the university although I might disagree with it on a very fundamental level.
MB ... they also were getting - as many universities do, even the private schools - were getting some state public funds for it. And then what happened was, not that the university was shut down, but that they just lost any kind of state funding...At this point another panelist chimed in and it sounds to me like a third panelist, Alia Hogben, I believe, also showed support:
?? ... If Trinity Western, however, asks for public money to support their law school then I think we've crossed a line between closed secularism and open secularism.So this is pretty covered, right? I mean, that horse has been thoroughly beaten. Janet Buckingham states that religion is owed no special treatment and the entire panel agrees that it just wouldn't be right for the Trinity Western University - or its new Law School - to discriminate against anyone if they were getting any public funds.
I had read that the school was in fact receiving public funds before. Maybe I heard wrong. I mean there it was from the horses mouth. I remember thinking to myself as I heard the recording that surely the school must not be receiving a dime of public funding or else she would have corrected their previous statements and not consented with her silence. Otherwise, one might suspect her of telling a lie.
Well, in the Q&A period with the audience, someone (??) asked her this.
?? (1h06m) Quick question for Janet. I believe the donations to Western Trinity University are tax-deductible are they not?Uhm... Oopsie.
JB Like they are to other religious charities.
?? Right, and as such would that not mean that you would now be using money from the public sphere and now you're also proscribed by the public public sphere?
JB Well then have to require that the Roman Catholic Church allow their...
JB ... priests to marry and that they have women priests. But we don't allow the state to interfere with religious beliefs and practices any more than we allow religion to interfere with the state.
Well, I suppose tax deductible donations count as public funds. The public pays the taxes. And the fact that all religious charities get it is yet another cause for concern, believe me. The fact this school is even classified as a religious charity confuses me a little as well.
Then I went digging and gets worse.
The Harper government has awarded over $20 million of its infrastructure funding to Christian colleges and universities since the launch of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program in 2009.
Some of the schools receiving federal infrastructure funds prohibit things like homosexual relationships, based on the educational institution's moral code or religious teachings.
A new analysis by Radio-Canada finds that out of the $2 billion allocated in the Harper government's 2009 Economic Action Plan to support infrastructure improvements at universities and colleges, $20 million went to 13 Christian schools, including:
- $6 million for Crandall University of Moncton, N.B.
- nearly $3 million for Ancaster, Ont.-based Redeemer University College.
- $2.6 million for Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C..
As an aside, it makes sense this was found out by the French language public radio broadcaster because half the time I think the English media in the country is willfully ignorant of state endorsement of religion. Anyway, check out last year's Charity and Giving Report for over at the Canada Revenue Agency.
I would guess that $5,498,766 in receipted donations would be tax-deductible. Then we have government funding of $1,404,902. This pattern goes back years. It looks to me like I've been funding institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people by a religious institution. Could someone please explain this?
"The federal government should not subsidize institutions that have discriminatory practices," said Robert Johnson, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of University Teachers.The federal government is getting their money from you and me.
While the amount of funding may be small, "it is still very symbolic, because it gives legitimacy to these colleges and these institutions," Johnson says. "And it is especially surprising in a context where the postsecondary system – universities, public colleges in Canada – are underfunded."
It seems to me that Janet Epp Buckingham clearly denied that Trinity Western University was receiving any public funding. Then less than an hour later she admitted those who donate to the school receive tax-deductions. Then I find this news article and CRA report that suggests the Harper government handed millions to the school. I would love to hear her explanation for these apparent contradictions.