Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Hearing Begins For Grimsby Atheist Rene Chouinard vs Niagara School Board

More developments on the plight of Grimsby, Ontario atheist Rene Chouinard who is trying to convince the District School Board of Niagara that allowing the Gideons to distribute their Bibles to public school children is not a good thing.

Well, the long-awaited hearing at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal began today.

The news story is here: Niagara atheist takes school battle to tribunal

The back story here is that in 2009 Chouinard got a permission slip from the school asking if his daughter could be given religious material by the Gideons.  At the time Chouinard complained.  But the problems actually began further back in 2005 when his son attended a school where Bibles were distributed.

Well not long after, the school board decided to strike down their policy which only allowed the distribution of Gideon material and replace it with a policy that would allow for distribution of more religious material  than simply the Gideons.  This effectively made it even more offensive to Chouinard and those of us who do not want religious dogma promoted on public school grounds.

To counter this the Chouinards requested the right to distribute atheist and freethought material to children on public schools using the very same rules.  One book to be distributed was by Dan Barker and I remember there was some talk of the FFRF even helping the Chouinards out by donating books.  The point of this was not to indoctrinate young minds with atheism but rather to underline just how bad this policy was.  Chouinard said,
“Public schools are there to educate children not to indoctrinate them,” said Chouinard, who has made a request to the board under its new policy to distribute Humanist literature to Nelles students for a one-year period. Rene said the application is a “test” for the board, and that he does not want material promoting “any religion or faith” available in the system. “(A school) is not the place to push religious ideology. There are churches and separate schools for that.”
The thing is, the School Board deliberated on this and decided to decline Chouinard's request, based on a book that told them what was a religion and what was not.  Clearly atheism is not. They used the Multifaith Information Manual to determine what constitutes a faith or religion.
To decide which religious texts make the cut, Niagara school officials are instructed to follow the Ontario Multifaith Information Manual, a periodically updated book detailing the beliefs, holy books and dietary restrictions of groups ranging from Hare Krishnas to Wiccans to Rastafarians.  
As the manual does not include atheists, agnostics and all other non-believers, Mr. Chouinard’s books — Just Pretend: A Free thought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist — were handily rejected.
Apparently, if you're a Wiccan or Rastafarian you're in luck, but atheists... no dice.  Apparently, all publications distributed to children need to be religious in nature.  So Chouinard was left with no choice but to go infront of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

And this position was re-iterated by the Board during the first day of the hearing.
After this policy, DSBN education director Warren Hoshizaki — the first in a chain to approve religious materials distribution — was also asked to consider the atheist publication suggested by Chouinard. 
Based on board legal advice and the Ontario Multifaith Council’s manual, the book did not meet the criteria as a religious publication.
And you know what's really ironic about this?  The school board is claiming the whole point of this policy is to be as inclusive as possible!
“The policy we’re trying to reflect is inclusiveness,” the education director said. “It (lets) the students and their families have access to materials they may not have access to (otherwise).” 
“It’s access, equity … and a reflection of the community.”
 As long as you're religious of course.  And the religion you belong to is listed in this book...

Again, the news story is here: Niagara atheist takes school battle to tribunal


  1. This is interesting. We were having a similar-ish discussion on my local group's mailing list recently regarding the Religious Org category of registered not for profits. Basically, to become a registered NFP with CRA, you have to pick a category for your organization, and which category you pick determines what the goals of your organization should be, and therefore what your legal requirements are to maintain registration (for example, foundations have disbursement quotas, etc). Religious Orgs do not have to prove that they benefit society in any way. Instead, their requirement is that they be engaged in the "promotion of religion." This, in and of itself, is considered sufficiently worthwhile to Canadian society that our taxpayers should be supporting its efforts.

    That's somewhat problematic, obviously, but what's even worse is that the organization must be promoting a qualifying religion, and there's a list of which religions are acceptable. Atheism, obviously, is not on it. So what ended up having in CFI's case, for example, is that they registered as an educational charity instead.

    But that leaves us with a difficult issue - do we want atheism to be on that list, or not? Are we willing to fight for atheism to be considered a religion in Canada so that we can not be discriminated against in cases like this and when forming community organizations?

    I think that the greatest resistance to this is coming/will come from within our own community - there are so many atheists who have a knee-jerk reaction to that "R-word" and do not want atheism to ever be considered anything like a religion. But for practical purposes, if we want to have the same advantages and access to help that religious organizations have when building our communities and supporting our members, I kinda feel like we have to just swallow that pill. It's why I choose to define "religion" as "worldview." Makes it far more palatable ;)

    Anyways, once we deal with our own internal nay-sayers, I actually think that our victory in convincing the Canadian government that atheism is a religion would come pretty quickly and easily.

    (PS: We had the same issue with the census and trying to get "atheist" included as one of the explicit options on the "what is your religion?" question. A lot of people didn't want that option there, and I know more than a few people who self-identify as atheists but who will write in "None" on that question, even though atheist is there as an option, simply because they do not want it to be considered a religion.)

  2. I just posted some of this excellent comment to my blog. I can totally see where you're coming from. I'm a bit split about it. In principle I don't agree... but in practice you gotta do what you gotta do.

    I am planning to start a non-profit sometime myself and I will undoubtedly run into the very same dilemma.

    Thanks for the comment. Very thought-provoking!

  3. So how would they react if you chose to hand out copies of the Satanic Bible to the kids:

  4. Thanks for your comment! I would imagine they would react slightly worse than if the Hare Krishnas were handing out their stuff. Ha! If the reaction to this book is bad... one could only imagine. It would be bad.

    I'm eagerly awaiting the result. I'm assuming it should be on its way soon.

  5. Temporarily faceless21 April 2013 at 15:43

    Perhaps assembling a massive book containing all the contradictions within and between the worlds major religions would qualify as a religious book. Might be handy reference book in all public schools.

  6. Perhaps the Skeptic's Annotated Bible would be a good start? :)

  7. There's an online combination of the Bible Contradictions "map" with the relevant sections from the online SAB linked:


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