Showing posts with label canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canada. Show all posts

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Prominent Alberta Creationist Makes Most Important Alberta Fossil Discovery In Years

Sixty million year old fish fossil found by creationist. (Photo: University of Calgary)
Alberta creationist, Edgar Nernberg operates a backhoe and he sits on the Board of Directors at the Big Valley’s Creation Science Museum which is likely the Creationist Ground Zero of all of Canada! Yes, Alberta is living up to its reputation.
The "Dinosaurs and Humans" display shows considerable evidence that not only did dinosaurs exist recently, but that humans existed with them.  This evidence is fatal to the evolutionary dogma which has dinosaurs extinct at least 60 million years before humans evolved.
Big Valley Creation Science Museum (source)
I need to go! I need to go right now!

So anyway, Edgar was busy operating his backhoe -- digging a basement, a typical thing for a fossil expert to be doing -- and runs into one of the oldest and most important fossil finds ever in Alberta!
"When the five fish fossils presented themselves to me in the excavator bucket, the first thing I said was you’re coming home with me, the second thing was I better call a paleontologist," Nernberg said in a statement.
You can read all about Nernberg's find over at the University of Calgary news site.  Darla Zelenitsky is pretty excited by the pristine condition of the fish. They also come from a period right before the asteroid impact that toasted off the dinosaurs.
“Because complete fossils are relatively rare from this time period in Alberta, any such discoveries are significant as they shed light on the nature and diversity of animals that lived not long after the extinction of the dinosaurs,” says Zelenitsky. “These fossil fish are important because they are very primitive representatives of a large group of bony fish known today.”
You won't find mention of Nernberg's wacky creationist views at this U of C website though. They think this fossil is 60 million years old. Nernberg's pretty positive they're under 6,000 years old, because: BIBLE. Dinos and humans and the fish and everything were all together -- how else would the ark thing have worked, right?

Big Valley Creation Science Museum (source)
As Nerberg puts it, them fish don't have best before dates on them, or something.
It's hard work in a world where evolution and a timeline measured in the billions of years is widely accepted -- but Nernberg says he doesn't mind, knowing his point of view is the right one.

"There's no dates stamped on these things," he says, sharing a good-humoured chuckle about a discovery that has him working alongside the ideological enemy, so to speak.
Is it a miracle or was the Devil in control of that backhoe?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ottawa Keeping Details of Weapons Sale to Saudi Arabia Secret -- Hint: 'Human Rights'

Canadian designed and built LAV III by General Dynamics (source)
Last year around this time, I wrote about the Harper Government(tm) keeping really quiet about human rights violations in Saudi Arabia so they can sell them light armoured vehicles... which can be used for crowd control (aka. human rights violations) by the Saudi government.
So perhaps by next Valentines Day, the Saudi religious police can use these vehicles to dramatically crash into florist shops and wrench flowers and chocolates away from terrified people who wish to make gifts to their loved ones -- or perhaps just use the guns to blow them to pieces? The LAV III -- brochure here -- comes with a M242 Bushmaster 25mm cannon, a secondary C6 7.62mm co-axial machine gun along with supplementary Mag58 turret top MG in swing mount and 76mm smoke grenade dischargers. That last item seems like it would be great for riot dispersal and the brochure promises great Supportability and affordability.
Well, next Valentines Day happened and now Ottawa has chosen to keep the deal with Saudi Arabia totally secret, because: $15,000,000,000.
The Department of Foreign Affairs argues it must keep deliberations secret regarding this deal – by far the largest export contract ever brokered by Ottawa – citing the need to protect the “commercial confidentiality” of General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, which makes the light armoured vehicles.

Ottawa maintains this despite the fact that Foreign Affairs, by its own stated rules, is required to screen requests to export military goods to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Among other things, it must obtain assurances “there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”

The $15-billion sale of fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia, first announced in 2014, represents a big win for the Harper government’s efforts to build up Canada’s role as a global arms dealer by championing weapons exports. But Ottawa is not going to share its analysis of how this transaction will pass muster with the federal export controls regime.
Exactly what I want Canada to be known for: a global arms dealer.

Remember, we're talking about Saudi Arabia, who threw Raif Badawi into jail for 10 years and torture him with whips for blogging stuff. His own wife and children are now in refuge here in Quebec. They have religious police who roam the streets and you can easily get beheaded for any number of reasons -- just read about it.

What could drive a Conservative government to completely ignore such vile and abhorrent violations of human rights? What drives a Conservative government -- Stephen Harper that is? Fifteen billion dollars, of course.
As an example of how light armoured vehicles (LAVs) might enable human-rights abuses, rights activists allege it was Canadian-made fighting vehicles that Saudi Arabia sent into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising. Asked if it believes the Saudis used made-in-Canada LAVs when they went into Bahrain, the Canadian government doesn’t deny this happened. It only says it doesn’t believe the vehicles were used to beat back protests.
Honestly, it makes my stomach turn that Canada will be giving the Saudi kingdom -- an insane theocratic dictatorship which considers atheists to be terrorists -- the means to beat down and oppress their own people and the people of neighbouring countries.

Of course any suggestion that Saudi Arabia knows anything at all about human rights is an absolute farce and that's why the government is keeping this information under wraps. It makes me want to ralph.

So what about all this business about human rights the Conservatives went on and on about? Oh, sorry, I meant religious rights and the religion of fundamentalist Islam is doing just fine in Saudi Arabia, thanks. That must be why Andrew Bennett has nothing whatsoever to say about the House of Saud.
The Conservative government, trying to boost arms sales by Canadian companies overseas as defence budgets are trimmed in the United States and Europe, has nevertheless styled itself as a champion of human rights during its latest term in office. It created an Office of Religious Freedom with an ambassador-level appointment, Andrew Bennett.

This week, however, Foreign Affairs refused The Globe and Mail’s request for an interview with Mr. Bennett on the arms sale to Saudi Arabia. “An interview cannot be arranged but please send your questions for Ambassador Bennett and we will have answers prepared,” the department said.
Well, I guess everyone has a price -- the conservatives, so-called offices in support of human rights, and of course the innocent and beaten down people of Saudi Arabia.

It's nice to see how religion can truly rise above worldly matters like trade deals, right? It's great to see such lofty Christian principles. Verily, the brotherhood of man.

Completely despicable.

Canada Office of Religious Freedom Condemns Murders of Bangladeshi Atheist Bloggers

Andrew Bennett (source)
Although I strongly protested the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom and I still would rather see the whole thing replaced with a secular human rights organization, it still does good things sometimes.

Now either I missed this or else nobody really pays a whole lot of attention to the office these days. Bennett's office did the right thing almost two weeks ago and released a statement condemning the fatal attack on Bangladeshi atheist blogger Ananta Bijoy Das as well as condemning the earlier murders of atheist bloggers Avijit Roy and Oyashiqur Rahman.

Here's the timely release on the office's press release page:
May 14, 2015 - Ottawa, Ontario - Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, today issued the following statement:
“I am deeply troubled by the recent targeted killing of atheist blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in Bangladesh. Canada condemns this murder and calls on authorities to protect the rights and the lives of all Bangladeshis.

“This is the latest in a series of attacks on advocates for freedom of expression and freedom of religion over the past several months. Avijit Roy and Oyashiqur Rahman, both vocal defenders of freedom of expression, were also killed earlier this year.

“Ananta Bijoy Das reportedly contributed to the blog started by Avijit Roy.

“Canada has welcomed Bangladesh’s commitment to pluralism and religious freedom, and we encourage further efforts by the government and all parties to uphold the right of all individuals to espouse their beliefs in peace and security, free from violent attack.”
This is only a couple of days after my own post on the attack -- a great improvement over the months and months of silence regarding persecution of atheists and others by religious governments and groups in the past.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Canadian Editor of Bangladeshi Freethought Blog Concerned After Murder of Bloggers

Farid Ahmed is justifiably concerned for the safety of fellow bloggers and his family.
On February 26th, Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death. On May 12th, blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was butchered. Both were freethinkers, atheists. Both blogged at the Bangladeshi English language freethought blog Mukto-Mona

The Globe and Mail has an stark story on Toronto editor of the blog, Fahrid Ahmed, who is justifiably concerned for friends, himself and family.
From his home, Mr. Ahmed is steering the Bengali- and English-language blog Mukto Mona – which translates as “free thinking” – through a difficult chapter as its writers are struck down.

The blog’s founder and a friend of Mr. Ahmed’s, Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy, was hacked to death while leaving a book fair in the capital Dhaka in February. Dr. Roy’s wife, Rafida Ahmed, sustained serious head injuries and the loss of her thumb in the machete attack carried out by suspected religious militants.
The blog Ahmed runs from the relative safety of Canada is the largest of its kind in Bangladesh and acts as an umbrella -- a major meeting place of people in that country's freethought, secular and atheist community. This blog seems to be target number one for murderous militant Islamic groups who seem hellbent to continue slaughtering bloggers until it is silenced.
For Mr. Ahmed, the blog that he helped build has become a matter of life and death – as its writers inside Bangladesh fear for their lives and look to him for answers. From the safety of Canada, he realizes there are no easy solutions.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said.
I wish I knew what to do. I've seen positive outcomes, like Bangladeshi blogger Sharif Ahmed (no relation to Farid) who successfully got refuge in Canada after suffering torture for his atheism in his own country.

However, I also see Raif Badawi rotting still in his jail cell in Saudi Arabia for doing essentially the same thing. Our federal government doing precious little to help his cause. So what can we do?
Speaking at his Toronto home, Mr. Ahmed is pensive. He is getting messages from Mukto Mona writers in hiding. “Somebody will get killed within a short time,” he said with certainty.
The site itself has some 300 contributors and 35 core writers. The threats pour in.

Ahmed himself recognizes he can never set foot in his home country again. Although he has concentrated on subjects not directly related with religion or atheism, Like Avijit Roy, in Bangladesh, he would be a marked man.

I believe every effort should be made to get as many of these bloggers out of the country. I wish I knew exactly what that is though. If anyone reading these words knows what that is -- please let me know.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Pagans Protest Moment of Silence at Cape Breton Council Meeting


In mid-April, the Supreme Court made what's turning out to be a landmark ruling -- no prayer at Saguenay City Council meetings. It was a unanimous decision which has very clearly set precedent in cities across the country. Many places have given up prayer altogether and some have replaced it with a moment of silence or reflection. Cape Breton opted for a moment of silent prayer, invocation and reflection at their monthly meetings.

The prayer itself isn't an age old tradition. I've got gym socks I bought prior to 1998. It's also pretty clearly a prayer to a monotheistic god as well -- let's be frank here, the Christian god that was, in the past, rammed down the throats of pagans in Europe:

God Our Creator, bless us as we gather today for this meeting;
You know our most intimate thoughts;
Guide our minds and hearts
so that we will work
for the good of the community,
and help all your people.
Give us today the strengths
and wisdom to carry out our duties
in the most caring and respectful ways.
Teach us to be generous in our outlook,
courageous in the face of difficulty,
and wise in our decisions.
Amen

Anyway, the prayer has been replaced with this minute of silence. However, five neo-pagans didn't think that was not secular enough. They interrupted Tuesday's meeting and informed the councillors they'll continue until the politicians drop the silent praying and get down to business right away each session.
Wearing a ritual robe and holding a talking stick, Rose Collins said she represents the pagan community.

"If he is going to break the law and continue to do so, then at least include everyone, if not, exclude it, period," she said.

Madeline Yakimchuk also took a stand.

"I first stood up, I was so nervous, but you know I am really distraught. Division between church and state is what's important to me," she said.
When I was pagan, it was polytheism and heavy emphasis on a mother goddess. I don't see that in the above prayer. Another pagan voiced his disapproval.
“I’ve been a proud pagan my entire life. This prayer you guys have in your agenda, this moment of silence for this God, I won’t tolerate this. Either you include us or exclude all,” Sydney Mines resident Wayne O’Toole said in interrupting the moment of silent prayer.
And...
“I’d like to know why the mayor is continuing to break the law for one. This was a law from the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Rose Collins, a pagan.

“Is he oblivious to the law? That’s my problem.”

Collins, dressed in a purple ritual robe and holding what she said was a Mi’kmaq talking stick, said she wants to see the municipality “embrace” all cultures, not just followers of Christianity.

“We basically worship nature and the cycles of nature. … It’s very peaceful. We’re spiritualists more than anything.”
Personally, I'm okay with a moment of silence or personal reflection or whatever. Although, I could see where some may feel alienated if members were to bow their heads or close their eyes or cross themselves. There would be a sort of expectation that could be built up for you to do it as an atheist or pagan as well, I suppose. I know Thanksgiving dinner with relatives is a little odd for this reason.

Honestly though, the easiest thing to do would be to simply abolish the moment of silence altogether if it's causing strife. I also wonder if Pagans could be the Satanists of the north when it comes to challenging religious privilege in government. I really hope Pagan groups across the country mobilize like this more often to combat illegal state-church entanglement! Thank the goddess for the Pagans, right?

Interestingly, it seems like the very councilor who introduced the prayer in 1998 is now asking the mayor to drop the prayer altogether rather than do this wimpy half-assed moment of silence thing.
Dist. 6 Coun. Ray Paruch was responsible for introducing the prayer into meetings back in February 1998.

He said mayor and council should be ready to abandon prayer completely.

Paruch said he would not stand for the silent prayer if it’s included at the beginning of next month’s meeting.
I'll post video of this later once it becomes available and if it's good. I'll also be posting the reactions of several of the council members -- I think it says a lot about attitudes within the council and municipal governments across the country.

The mayor's on vacation right now, and his replacement seemed a tad clueless about what to do. So I think we'll just need to wait and see what happens next month.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Canada's Youngest LGBT Activists to Open First Ever Elementary School GSA

Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton (source)
Remember the two 12 year old Ottawa LGBT activists, Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton? They were the Catholic school students who were assigned a project about social justice and so naturally chose to do one on LGBT equality. Well, this prompted the principal, Ann Beauchamp, to put a lid on their project.
The students’ projects go on display at a social justice fair in January, attended by students from Grades 4 to 6. Beauchamp didn’t feel gay rights “was a topic that was appropriate for that age group,” Maloney said.

The principal was also concerned that she’d face criticism from “right-wing” Catholic parents if she allowed the project to proceed, Maloney said.
Then a media firestorm happened, and so the school said it was all a really big misunderstanding -- they could totally do the project and everything! Well, they should have just let them do the project, because by then, the girls had gotten in touch with gay rights activist Jeremy Dias and they were talking about starting up the first ever GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) in a Catholic elementary school.
In addition to doing their project, Quinn and Polly are now also hoping to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at St George’s. They got the idea after meeting with Jeremy Dias, who runs Jer’s Vision, an anti-bullying and -homophobia organization, after news about the vetoing of their project broke.
This was back in December and I have wondered on and off how things were progressing -- if at all. Happily, the Huffington Post has done an excellent job telling the entire story up to last week!

So, in December, they put in their request and began to observe how a nearby Catholic high-school runs their GSA. However, months went by and the girls are set to graduate from their current school in June. 
"The teacher that they gave us … just doesn't have enough time. All the recesses that we would be doing the GSA, she's not free," said Polly. "And we don't really get any explanations from anybody. Recently we were told to make a proposal to the principal, we have no idea what that meant. Like, proposal on what? Marriage?"
How mysterious! No, wait, not mysterious at all. This is what the school's been up to for awhile now.
"I think the principal is trying to make it go away until next year," said Quinn, "and we'll be at the other school so…"
Yup. However, these girls are unstoppable! 
"But we have a couple Grade 5s that could start it off next year, too," piped in Polly.

"Our friend, her grandma is lesbian, so it would be a really good thing because she agrees with us and she's totally with it," added Quinn.
I think what this is really making clear to me is that it's the school administration that are the odd ones here! Being gay is now so normal in society that the principal and the school really do look like that old homophobic uncle you might run into at a family reunion.
"My parents and me, we have a lot of gay and lesbian friends," Quinn added. "So I just want to show them that I do actually appreciate [them]."
Huffpo contacted one of the school administrators and asked how it could possible take six months to start a club and if any other clubs have ever taken this long. According to the official, it's actually the girls' busy schedules that have caused delay!

This whole insanity has taken a toll on the girls faith in humanity -- or shall we say, faith in the Catholic school system? 
"We're a practicing Catholic family … until recently," she explains. "I really like the way the Ottawa Catholic School Board did French, and my husband and I have been 100 per cent happy with the academics. But we hadn't anticipated this."

She added both Quinn and Polly refused to be confirmed this year. "I get that. How can you be confirmed in a faith that you've been so disappointed in?"
However, just last week, they submitted another proposal to the principal and it was accepted. The first ever GSA in an elementary school in Canada is finally... probably... hopefully a reality!
"We have a bunch of books that are for, like, the little kids. That's our rainbow library, that's what we call it. And we're going to set up a couple boxes in classrooms so that people who want to see a change in our school, they could just put [ideas for] what we could do better in that box," said Polly of heir plans.

"And we could just talk about equality and stuff."
Six months of struggle for this! Think of what might be possible if you didn't have to literally swim up river against the retrograde teachings of the Catholic Church when it comes to LGBT! I'm happy for them -- they are amazing! -- their school, on the other hand, needs all the help it can get.

Then you have comments like this one...

Terrible job raising these kids especially claiming to be catholi (sic). Homosexuality is clearly a sin in the catholic faith. Sure rebel against how God commanded you to live. The parents should have taught them to respect their faith and not to be like everyone else who lives in the world including non believers. God does call believers in the faith to be different than those who live worldly secular lives. Being gay is NOT ok, it is a sexual sin that is so bad the bible refers to it as an abomination. If you disagree take it up with God! This isn't a public school this is like these school officials bowing down to Satan, utterly disgusting.
Except that this isn't a private school. In Ontario, the Catholic schools are publicly funded. As such, students should have every right to start up GSAs like what these two brave and intelligent girls have done! Kudos to Quinn and Polly! I can tell they're going to go a long long way!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Things Get Heated Over Prayer At City Council In Iqaluit

Iqaluit City Council. (source)
City councils across the country are still reacting to the April 15th Supreme Court ruling which banned prayer at council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec. Iqaluit has decided to continue praying at meetings until they've gotten legal council from their lawyer after a motion was voted down (3-2) to replace the invocation with a moment of silence.
Councillors were voting on a motion — moved by Councillor Kenny Bell — to drop the prayer that usually opens council meetings. It followed a Supreme Court Decision, which ruled that the municipal council in Saguenay, Quebec cannot open its meetings with a prayer because doing so infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.
Things got pretty heated up there. City councilor Simon Nattaq actually threatened to resign if the prayer was dropped! Sounds like a plan to me.
"When we pray, I don't think about what religion we should be praying for," Nattaq said. "I'm focused on the prayer."
Councilor Romeyn Stevenson, who seconded Bell's proposal, also revealed that he's been on the receiving end of some verbal abuse from good religious folk over this.
Coun. Stevenson admitted many residents openly oppose his stance to replace the council prayer for a moment of silence.

“Over the past two weeks I’ve been yelled at, belittled – I’ve had what I would call racist remarks directed at me, just because of this issue,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said, bylaws state that meetings must start with a Christian prayer, “and that makes our meetings biased.”

“In this city, we have Christians of all shades and all colours. We have Muslims, we have Buddhists, and atheists. We represent them all,” Stevenson said.

“How can you say to any of these groups that we’re going to make decisions that are fair, and without prejudice, but just wait outside, please, until we’re done with our prayers.

“We can’t do that. We represent all Iqalungmiut.”
There were impassioned defenses of the Christian prayer as being part of Inuit culture -- ancient practices. Of course, all of this is could be seen as a little ironic.
The backlash to Bell's announcement has been swift. Some residents have said that praying is an important part of Inuit culture, and that should be respected by city council.

Not everyone agrees, though. Caroline Ipeelee-Qiatsuk, who is completing a course through the University of Regina on Inuit culture and identity, says prayer is an adapted practice for Inuit.

"There's nothing wrong with them believing that," she says, "but if people are going to say it's our culture, our Inuit culture, it really isn't, if you think about it. It's an adapted culture that we adapted from the missionaries, which weren't Inuit."
During the last meeting, there was some question about what the Supreme Court would do to Iqaluit City Council if they continued praying.
“Are they going to put the councillors at BCC?” he said, referring to the Baffin Correctional Centre, Nunavut’s Iqaluit-based jail.

“I just don’t know what the Supreme Court would do to us,” he said to laughs in the council chamber, which momentarily lightened what had been heavy discussion. 
This is an excellent question. I feel that many cities across the nation are holding tight and playing wait and see.

The city of Iqaluit will consult their lawyer in June and presumably then make a final decision. One counselor, Joanasie Akumalik, abstained from the vote until the legality of things are investigated further.

Monday, 11 May 2015

'Get Out of Forced Catholicism' Coupons Handed Out At Peterborough School


Back in January, I posted about ingenious Get Out of Forced Catholicism information leaflets that were being distributed by Secular Ontario. Ottawa's Metro News summed up the effort:
Members of a secular humanist group say they will be handing out “get out of jail” coupons to Catholic high school students advising them they have the right to opt out of religion classes.

An email from Secular Ontario said supporters “will be on public property in front of a selected publicly-funded Catholic secondary school to distribute coupons to students,” when classes finish in the afternoon.
Well just today, Veronica Abbass from Canadian Atheist joined a small group of secularists in front of another high school, this one in Peterborough, to hand out the leaflets.
Ms Abbass stood outside of school property when school let out on Monday (May 11). She was hoping to catch students who were walking home, to hand out a coupon that encouraged their right to get out of what the coupon describes as “forced Catholicism.” Ms Abbass argues no student is legally required to attend religion class, and that schools who force the issue are breaking the law.

But Ms Abbass ended up spending most of her time chatting with the school’s administration and one concerned parent who wanted to make sure she wasn’t forcing student who didn’t want to talk about the issue to stop.
Veronica informed me that two teachers even told her they would pray for her. We all know what that could be code for.

(If you would like to enquire about how to obtain some of these coupons for yourself, send an email to religionfree@secularontario.ca)

So then the school administration made this totally unnecessary fuss. It seems to me, as it did to Abbass, that they would much rather the students not be aware of their right to skip religious classes -- nor their parents, nor the media. Nobody should know about this.

One parent suggested that Secular Ontario forward their complaint to the government -- as if nobody has thought of that before!
A parent, who declined to give his name, says Ms Abbass is taking up her issue with the wrong people.

He says if she has a problem with publicly-funded Catholic schools, she needs to forward her complaints to the government, not hand out coupons at schools.
What's the government going to do? No politician would ever dare lift a finger against the Catholic church's privileged status.

No, the best approach is to hand out these coupons at schools -- all Catholic schools in the province. The courts have ruled in favour of students opting out of religious classes and this would be the best tactic of all. The more parents who take advantage of this, the more likely Catholic schools will begin going truly private and perhaps voluntarily opt out of Ontario's pseudo-public education system.

Well, I can dream.

For more information on how you get an exemption 
for your child from religious instruction visit:

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Some Interesting Figures From James Lunney

(source)
Remember MP James Lunney? He's the evangelical Christian creationist who left the Conservative party to become independent and openly fight for his faith against militant atheist evolutionism

Well, on May 4th, R.G. Burnett wrote a letter to the Nanaimo Daily News congratulating Lunney for leaving the Conservatives. In addition to surmising that Lunney must be very wise to understand the importance of separation of Church and state to a functioning government. No doubt this was a bit of light sarcasm.
He has also done the right thing removing himself from the Conservative Party. His views on evolution are at variance with the overwhelming majority of scientists the world over, but he is entitled to his view.
Here's the meat of Lunney's response letter to the newspaper, just yesterday.
On the contrary, my views are mainstream in today's world of molecular and cell biology.

In 2009, polling of the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed 33 per cent of scientists believe in a personal God and 44 per cent atheist. Even more interesting is the age group 18-34 years, where 42 per cent believe in God versus 33 per cent atheist. Atheists are diminishing.
I really don't understand this.

These figures merely show that younger scientists are somewhat more likely to believe in a personal God, whatever that means. I fail to see how this promotes creationism and discredits macro-evolution, which is what Lunney has a beef with.

I also fail to see why more younger God-believing scientists means atheists are diminishing. What has the distribution been historically? Could it be that these scientists will become less religious the longer they work in the field? Who knows.

This is not evidence for or against evolution as understood by science in the 21st century -- no matter how many scientist believe in a god. Science does not work this way. Research and peer reviewed papers are required.

Burnett ends his original letter like this.
If Lunney can bring forth the proof on creation we would all love to hear about it as opposed to his beliefs and scriptures.
I'll add that we would need evidence other than opinion polls as well.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Life Imitates Art: Two Former Hasidic Jews In Film About Woman Questioning Her Place In Hasidic Community

Still from Félix et Meira set in Mile End, Montreal. (source)
There's an interesting film out recently set in Mile End, Montreal, one of a few neighbourhoods with a large Hasidic Jewish population on the island. It's called Félix et Meira:
Félix and Meira is a story of an unconventional romance between two people living vastly different realities mere blocks away from one another. Each lost in their everyday lives, Meira (Hadas Yaron), a Hasidic Jewish wife and mother and Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a Secular loner mourning the recent death of his estranged father, unexpectedly meet in a local bakery in Montreal's Mile End district. What starts as an innocent friendship becomes more serious as the two wayward strangers find comfort in one another. As Félix opens Meira's eyes to the world outside of her tight-knit Orthodox community, her desire for change becomes harder for her to ignore, ultimately forcing her to choose: remain in the life that she knows or give it all up to be with Félix. Giroux's film is a poignant and touching tale of self-discovery set against the backdrops of Montreal, Brooklyn, and Venice, Italy. Written by Oscilloscope Laboratories
Of course, it's cool I get to see Montreal. The story line is also cool. However, it's also pretty neat that both of the starring actors left Hasidic Judaism.

One, Luzer Twersky, who plays Meira's husband,  is even an atheist (interview):
“I just didn’t fit in. I didn’t believe in God. I realized that I was actually an atheist and there seemed to me so much more to explore in the world and I didn’t want to limit myself to that tiny little community.”

Luzer Twersky's plays the charachter Shulem, whose wife Meira wrestles with her faith. Credit: courtesy of "Felix & Meira" Now Twersky, the secular atheist actor, has been put him back inside that Hasidic world by a role in the upcoming film “Felix & Meira,” which premieres Friday. 
He plays the character Shulem, the Hasidic husband of Meira. Meira, played by the Israeli actress

Hadas Yaron, turns to music and drawing to escape the religious life that has been prescribed for her. Twersky can’t help but relate.
In the interview, he relates how he would hide CDs, DVDs and even the DVD player in an old spare tire. Finally, one day it struck him that he was an atheist.
He’ll never forget the moment when he officially lost faith. It was Friday night, Sabbath and he was at synagogue doing Friday night prayers.

“And I was just standing there with all the hundreds of people praying. And it just hit me, this is so pointless. Everybody is insane in here,” he remembers thinking.
I've written about Orthodox Jews who find out they are actually atheist before. They often hide this fact, sometimes for years because of the deep ties they have with their families, the community, and lack of secular training for dealing with the outside world.

So Twersky kept it secret and continued to watch secular movies with headphones one. Eventually, his wife asked him for a divorce and he was effectively kicked out of the community. His parents effectively disowned him.
“Every once in a while it creeps into your mind, ‘Did I make the right decision?’” says Twersky, “As an actor, you go back there you get both the comfort of it and the conflict of it. That was difficult for me. Between takes, I would just go outside and chain smoke.”
Meanwhile, the actor who plays Meira, Melissa Weisz, has also spoken up about her own past within the Hasidic community.
I never thought I’d be an actress, but not just for the reasons most people think they won’t make it. For most of my life, I lived in a traditional family in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, where careers — let alone careers in acting — were rarely discussed. I was fully observant and, when I was 19, I entered into an arranged marriage. Four years later, I left it all behind.
Like Twersky, Weisz went through a period of asking why -- asking the wrong questions and she didn't get any proper answers.
When I was 19, I had an arranged Hasidic marriage. It was just what was done; my ex-husband and I met a few times, and then we got engaged. Fortunately, he’s a great guy; I actually started to feel like I was falling in love with him during the courtship process. I hadn’t been with anyone else. I didn’t question whether the marriage was right for me (ultimately, it wasn’t). I figured I would make it work no matter what, because I had to. But, when you start questioning things, all the dominoes start to fall.
We were married for four years when I decided to walk away from both my husband and our community. That summer, I’d gone away to Texas and spoken with various Hasidic friends and rabbis, checked out different temples. I was reading a lot about Judaism and realized, once and for all, that it felt false to me. I had been trying to make sense of it and find my own path within it, but I just couldn’t. Religion, in general, just doesn’t really have a place in my life or my belief system.
Although things were shaky at first, Weisz has managed to reconnect with her family.

Here's the preview. I think I may hunt out the movie!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Niagara Falls City Council: That's Not a 'Prayer', That's A 'Deputation of Peace'

Niagara Falls. (source)
So on April 15th, the Supreme Court decided that politicians ramming Christian prayer down people's throats at City Council meetings in Quebec was not legal. Then many other cities across the country had to react. Some did the right thing and dropped prayers, some dug their heels in to try to fight the court ruling, while others -- like Niagara Falls -- waffled about and said they would investigate their options.

Well, on Tuesday, Niagara Falls City council did something sort of sneaky!
Rather than a prayer or invocation, Niagara Falls city council opened its Tuesday meeting with a “deputation to peace.”

Coun. Victor Pietrangelo read the deputation, which referenced God and Lord.
Oh, you see, this isn't the Lord's Prayer -- which they were praying illegally before! On no! They've caught up with the 1999 ruling against praying the Lord's Prayer now that the Supreme Court has ruled against any prayer by substituting a non-denominational prayer which was written by a Catholic Pope and goes like this:
Prayer for Peace (By Pope Pius XII)

Almighty and eternal God.

May your grace enkindle in all of us a love for the many unfortunate people whom poverty and misery reduce to a condition of life unworthy of human beings.

Arouse in the hearts of those who call you Father a hunger and thirst for social justice and for fraternal charity in deeds and in truth.

Grant, O Lord, peace in our days, peace to souls, peace to families, peace to our country, and peace among nations.

Amen
Oh no! That's not denominational at all! It was just written by a Pope and references God and the Lord, that's all!

In fact, it's not even a prayer, right? It's a deputation of peace!

Who exactly do these tricky folks think they are fooling?

Well, Niagara Falls resident Clarke Bitter wasn't fooled.
Niagara Falls resident Clarke Bitter, who during October’s municipal election campaign publicly questioned whether it was time to stop council opening prayers, said council couldn’t have made a human-rights complaint “any easier.”

“I spoke to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal this morning. I’m strongly considering (a complaint). I’ve also spoken to the clerk’s office,” said Bitter.

He said council can’t be all-inclusive if it references God or Lord, saying it goes against atheist constituents. He said the Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that atheism is protected as a creed. He said referring to God and Lord in a saying also makes it denominational to certain religions.

“This is about the rule of law. The Supreme Court has ruled and all I’m asking for is that council follow that decision.”
Personally, I think that nothing is going to get done without another Supreme Court ruling banning this nonsense from all city councils along with Parliament. I mean, city halls have already been essentially ignoring the 1999 ruling against the Lord's Prayer. I am a bit of a pessimist sometimes, though -- I wouldn't have ever thought the Supreme Court could have ruled the way they did and had to pinch myself a couple of weeks ago.

I find it remarkable how far city councils are going to defend this tradition. It seems like they are willing to get very creative to get around the law.

Oshawa City Council Drops Lord's Prayer After Initially Vowing to Continue Praying

Oshawa Mayor John Henry (source)
A couple of weeks now after the Supreme Court ruled that prayer is banned in Saguenay City Hall, and after vowing to continue praying, Oshawa Mayor John Henry has decided that the Lord's Prayer will not be recited at Oshawa City Hall.
Following the initial court ruling, Oshawa Mayor John Henry said he didn’t believe it applied to Oshawa because members of council recited the Lord’s prayer prior to the beginning of the meeting. However, Mayor Henry said that he has since gotten a legal opinion on the issue.
Apparently, his reasoning was also influenced by him having never personally received any complaints about the practice. However, since the ruling he's had a couple of complaints.

Of course, the number of complaints should have no bearing on whether or not you follow the law. I would remind everyone of the 1999 Court of Appeal ruling -- which applies to Ontario! -- that determined that reciting the Lord's Prayer is not allowed. Apparently, though, mayors only listen to the Supreme Court in Ontario.
On April 27, council voted 10-1 to end the practice of praying at Oshawa council meetings, rescinding two resolutions from prior councils including a 1999 resolution “That the council of the City of Oshawa re-affirm its recognition of Oshawa’s traditional Communities by continuing to recite the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at Oshawa council meetings”.
Don't these people write laws? I mean, yes! Good work! Nice to see them doing the right thing!

Municipal law specialist John Mascarin sums it up:
“The court very clearly appeared to say the state must be neutral with respect to its application of freedom of religion, including the right of someone to be a non-believer and not have some sort of Christian or other religion pressed upon them and it has to make its public spaces -- the municipal office, the council chamber -- neutral.” 
Exactly.

John Henry is now concerned that the next target may be the reference to God in the national anthem. Sure, why not?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Parliament Under Scrutiny to Drop Christian Prayer Before Sessions

Architecture inside House of Parliament. (source)
Not long ago, Independant MP James Lunney was attempting to address Parliament with a long discourse about cyber trolls who were making fun of him and other evangelical creationist Christians in Canada. The speaker of the house essentially shut his long rambling down and no doubt there were some with extreme victim complexes who may have taken the Speaker's action as yet another proof of the persecution of the religious in our country.

Well, Lunney and his ilk need not concern themselves there. The Speaker of the House is trying to keep prayer in Parliament after the Supreme Court ruled that it could not stay in city councils -- well, in Saguenay at least. It seems like the NPD would like to see the Parliament follow suit and remove the prayer. The Speaker wants the prayer to stay. It's all about the Parliamentary Privilege.
Opposition House leader Peter Julian is looking into whether the decision applies in the House of Commons, which is protected by parliamentary privilege, said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

"If there a place where we need to show we fully respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it's here in Parliament," he said.
...
Speaker Andrew Scheer "has no intention of changing this," but standing orders can be amended by the House, Bradley said.
Here's the prayer said before every Parliamentary session:
Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.
Everyone must stand for this prayer: Speaker, MPs, table officers. How does this even remotely reflect a secular country? Well, it doesn't. It seems that things are worse here than I imagined.
The prayer is read by the Speaker of the House ahead of each sitting before the doors are opened to the public. Parliament's website says that the Speaker, MPs and table officers must stand during the prayer, which is followed by a moment of silence.
Peter McKay actually believes the prayer recognizes all faiths! The following moment of silence is supposed to make the agnostics happy. Meanwhile NPD leader, Tom Mulclair pointed out that just having a moment of silence with no prayer -- like they do in Quebec -- really could be the best way to go.
"It's a solemn moment at the beginning of each session. Those who want to pray are free to pray, but it's not imposed," he said
Before people start telling me it's just tradition and that it's mere formality, why not read this extract from a terrible piece about prayer in city council by Terry Burns, pastor of Pembroke Pentecostal Tabernacle, in the Pembroke Daily Observer:
It's funny. The preamble of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms begins with an acknowledgment of the supremacy of God, so there is some recognition by the document's architects that the Fathers of Confederation, and maybe even a few of the Charter's signatories, recognize the deep ties that our nation has to the Judeo-Christian God. Embedded in the wall of our Parliament Buildings is the inscription, "And He shall have dominion from sea to sea," quoting the Psalms. The God referred to, the "He," is God, Yahweh or Jehovah, not some new-age notion!
This is why we need these prayers out of the ritual of city, provincial and federal government!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

First Nations Girl's Leukemia Returns, Goes Back Onto Chemo

Chemotherapy vials (source)
News just came out that J.J. the First Nations girl with leukemia, whose mother took her out of chemotherapy and brought her down to Florida for quack alternative medicine, has restarted chemo after the disease predictably returned in March. She has left the Hippocrates Health Institute.
A cancer-stricken Ontario First Nations girl whose court case drew national attention last fall is now receiving a mix of aboriginal and conventional health care – including chemotherapy – after her leukemia returned in March and her mother agreed to a blended treatment plan.
Okay, fine, whatever. I find it shocking they couldn't have come up with this in the first place.

J.J. was said to look well in court on Friday. I wonder how she looked back in March?

All of this seems related to a clarification ruling on Friday by Judge Gethin Edward which -- after J.J.'s cancer returned -- makes the child's well being paramount to any case. I'm having some trouble parsing the words, but I think it means that the child's health should be 'balanced' with the desire to use traditional medicine vs or alongside science-based medicine(?), but it's all rather foggy to me.
It is a "significant qualification" of Ontario court Judge Gethin Edward's November 2014 ruling, according to one legal expert, which means the child's well-being has to be balanced against rights to traditional medicine.

Nick Bala, a law professor at Queen's University, says the clarification "walks back" the original ruling that put First Nations constitutional rights as the major factor to be considered in the care of the child.
You would think that the child's well being would have always been considered paramount. This is precisely what I've been asking for all this time. The only thing which could obscure this obvious goal would be decades of institutional abuse and belief in unproven traditional medicine over evidence-based treatments -- along with politics. It seems very much like the judge believed in this medicine as well and is now backpedalling
Yesterday, Edward revisited his decision, although he didn’t call it that. He called it a “clarification,” as sought by all parties concerned, and an amendment or an adjustment.

In truth, it was a retreat.

A retreat that came too late for Makayla, whose case never went to court.

Indeed, when the Brant agency’s director, Andrew Koster, was asked afterwards outside court about whether a conciliatory approach towards melding traditional and “Western” medicine might not have save Makayla, the society’s lawyer stepped in to avoid a response. “I don’t think that’s a fair question. Of course, everybody is sad when a child dies. But this isn’t the place to exhume that case.”
This is precisely the place to exhume that case — which is now being examined by a committee that reports to the Chief Coroner of Ontario.
And nobody seemed to mention what the parent did -- brought her daughter to a treatment centre which apparently had very little to do with traditional medicine.

With all this said, it seems like J.J. got a second chance and I'm happy for her and her family. I hope it works out.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Calgary Private School Possibly 'Inconsistent' But No Indication of Being 'Atheist'


Chris Selley wrote something over at the National Post about how if schools want to be atheist they should be consistent in their atheism. I think it's worth a look because it shows us that it's not only atheists (schools or people?)  who must be consistent, it's our entire system. Don't blame the atheists, okay?
If you run a private school with a position on religion, these are interesting times. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled Montreal’s Loyola High School was entitled to teach Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum from a Catholic perspective — that is, it said Catholics were not required to treat Catholicism as just another faith. You might ask: Why would anyone enrol his children in a Jesuit school expecting it to be neutral about Catholicism? Why would a government that strives toward neutrality in matters of religion allow churches to run schools and then presume to tell them how to teach about religion? But this is the country we live in. Many of our governments subsidize the religious schools they’re trying to nudge away from their faiths.
It all sort of breaks down with the very first sentence and Selley knows it. He tries to remedy things by tagging on the last sentence. Let's play it back without all the goop in the middle.
If you run a private school with a position on religion, these are interesting times. ... ... Many of our governments subsidize the religious schools they’re trying to nudge away from their faiths.
Well, that just about sums it up, doesn't it? A huge problem here is we're calling these schools private when they're being subsidized heavily per student by the government. Whether the school be a Muslim academy teaching girls they cannot do track (because running will make them lose their virginity) or a Catholic school teaching that a virgin can give birth to the son of a god whose body becomes one with your Sunday morning communion wafer, it just shouldn't be funded by the government. We definitely shouldn't have this deliberately obscured by calling it a private school.

Let's get into the goo now.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled Montreal’s Loyola High School was entitled to teach Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum from a Catholic perspective — that is, it said Catholics were not required to treat Catholicism as just another faith.
As I've mentioned before, this is one class... just one single class out of many. This would be perhaps the only class where the school would be required to present alternate religious beliefs without trashing them. Is this really too much to ask? Ultimately though, the school got their cake and they get to eat it too.

Commentor fabuloso puts it excellently:
The Loyola school was not forbidden to "teach Catholicism from a Catholic perspective"; it was, according the the Que. ministry, required to add One Mandatory Course to its curriculum that dealt with religion from a neutral or non-sectarian angle.

That requirement was there so that the Loyola students could receive an accredited degree in public education, with a few comparatives. Similarly, a cult that thought the world was Flat would need to add one course that proposed the Round Earth Theory.
 Surely this must be some form of sloppiness on Selley's part. Now for some more goo.
You might ask: Why would anyone enrol his children in a Jesuit school expecting it to be neutral about Catholicism? Why would a government that strives toward neutrality in matters of religion allow churches to run schools and then presume to tell them how to teach about religion?
I wouldn't expect it to be neutral about Catholicism, most of the time. I would expect them to abide by the education ministry's rules to insure my child gets properly educated on world religions. I would expect that especially since public dollars go into the school.

Look, I don't know how things work in Ontario or the rest of Canada. Here in Quebec, the state has a mandate to ensure a basic level of education for the children. I wonder what Selley thinks about the Quebec government meddling in the education of extreme Orthodox Jewish groups. Should they stand aside and allow children to be taught nothing but the Torah and Yiddish? Why does religion get a pass with Selley?

The first step is to stop public funding of religious schools and subsidies to students, point finale.

Now let's move on past the first freaking paragraph to the rest of the piece. The details of this case are from 2011, predating this blog. This will be my working excuse for having never heard of it.

It seems that there is this prestigious private school in Calgary, Webber Academy, which is attempting to be non-denominational. I have really no idea what that truly means. It could simply signify Christian-lite. Anyway, this school forbade two Muslim students from praying anywhere on the premises. The students went before a human rights tribunal and won. Now the school is stuck with a $26,000 fine and the students can presumably pray in the school.
The Alberta Human Rights Commission fined Webber Academy a total of $26,000 for distress and loss of dignity after the boys were forced to hide at the school or leave the property during the city’s chilly winter to fulfill their faith’s obligations.
Look, as an atheist, even I agree with the commission. So long as it's not lead by the school itself and the students do not get any special privileges and do it discretely somewhere on the premises -- hey, knock yourselves out.

Selley rightly points out that this school was fine with headscarfs and turbans, etc. It just had a problem with the physical action of praying. This was the primary inconsistency of the atheist school.
But it’s not hard to see why they lost. Webber claims visible religious practice is a direct affront to its central ethos, but its ethos doesn’t seem to be very coherent: It allows students to wear turbans and hijabs, for example. The school tried to distinguish between garments as “a state of ‘being'” and prayer as “a visible activity,” which the tribunal kiboshed on principle; but in any event the activity wouldn’t have been “visible” had the school provided a private space. And Neil Webber, the school’s president, certainly did himself no favours by suggesting a student quickly crossing himself might not be a problem.
In the end it can really be a matter of degree but that's not my issue. Selley is here saying that it's those who wish to run atheist schools who are being inconsistent. It's just that there is no indication whatsoever that the school administrators are the slightest bit atheist.

The same commentor, fabuloso sums it up well again.
The Webbers aren't "atheists", they are people who ban visible expressions by students of adherence to any particular religion. As most Christians are not required by their churches to pray out loud, or wear big crosses, this ban is a free pass for Christians. But for faiths that do require a daily prayer, as the HR council said (in one of the few moments when it has fulfilled a lucid purpose), the ban is a ban on Muslim students enrolling in the first place. Which makes Webber a nice, white, suburban, discreetly Christian academy in the near suburbs of Calgary.
It seems to me like the problem with Shelley's piece is not merely in the first sentence. The issue exists even earlier on, in the title itself: Want to be atheist? Be coherent first.

Atheist where, who?

The word atheist makes for good click bait though.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

City Councils Putting Prayer 'On Review' After Landmark Supreme Court Ruling

Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass filed a suit against reciting the Lord's Prayer in Peterborough City Hall in 2012.
Photo credit: Sarah Frank at MyKawartha.com (source)
Since the Supreme Court's landmark ruling to stop prayer at Saguenay City Council meetings, I've been doing my best to cover the response of city and provincial governments who have prayer during their sessions.

So, Monday evening, I was happy to see a tweet from Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass announcing that her own city council in Peterborough has stopped prayer as well.
Sarah Frank covers the story over at MyKawartha.com.
Monday evening (April 20) marked the first time in years (and possibly decades) that Peterborough city councillors didn't open a municipal meeting with the Lord's Prayer.

The prayer was listed on the agenda for the Committee of the Whole, but councillors aren't reciting it until the City's legal staff can determine whether it's against the law, according to Councillor Andrew Beamer, who chairs the Committee of the Whole.
This is especially relevant to Abbass because she's been trying to get the Lord's Prayer out of her city hall since at least 2012 when she launched a lawsuit against the city. This is because, saying the Lord's Prayer in Ontario city councils has been illegal for over fifteen years now!

For now, the city is reviewing the Supreme Court ruling. I'd like to hope they're going to do the right thing and drop the prayer for a moment of silence or something, but judging by their previous behaviour, it seems like they'll do whatever they think they can get away with regardless of the letter of the law.

Meanwhile, Cape Breton is grudgingly dropping a 17 year tradition of prayer before council meetings.
A 17-year tradition of prayer at the opening of meetings came to an end Tuesday night at Cape Breton regional council, following a ruling last week by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Mayor Cecil Clarke says he will, grudgingly, abide by the ruling, although he isn't happy with the Supreme Court's decision banning prayer at council meetings.
Wow, some tradition. I've got gym socks older than 17 years. I suppose I'll need to grudgingly grab some more at the Giant Tiger, someday.

For now, he's leading a prayer prior to the meeting in some other conference room. Sure, whatever floats your boat.

Councillor Claire Dethridge agrees that a moment of silence in lieu of prayer is okay.
"I do agree with the idea of starting out with a minute's silence," she said. "We can read in silence or reflect in silence. And surely to God nobody can read our mind and be upset about that."
Surely, God could have read your minds prior to this without a prayer being uttered. Or do the words need to be utters out loud for the spell to work? Isn't praying out loud and making a show of it supposed to be against the spirit of praying or something? I just don't know. I'm sure I read this in the Bible somewhere.

Look, nobody is upset about people praying. People are upset about representatives of the state leading a prayer inside a state building during a meeting where public policy is debated and laws are enacted.

Finally, Windsor has replaced the prayer with a singing of O Canada. I've got my own problems with this -- it mentions God and the cross -- but at least it's not an overt prayer. The national anthem should be properly secularized and, while they're at it, have the word sons replaced with something gender neutral.

That's another battle for another day. I would much rather see a single school system in Ontario or a cessation of government support of Catholic schools in Quebec.

via Stephanie

Monday, 20 April 2015

Saskatchewan Premier's Got Church-State Separation Anxiety

Premier Brad Wall (source)
Did you know I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan during my entire high school days? It's a nice town in the middle of nothingness where it gets really cold, the mosquitoes are huge and the man-made lake in the middle of the city can get mighty smelly in the middle of summer.

Premier Brad Wall is in charge of Saskatchewan these days and he's raising up a mighty puddle of stink over the Supreme Court's recent ruling stating that Christians cannot use the secular state for religious product placement.

Wall doesn't see this prayer as exclusionary to non-Christians. Just listen to all that talk about God and remember it's taken directly out of an Anglican prayer book! Wait a minute! How can Wall possibly say this with a straight face. He must be a really good politician.

There was a discussion about public prayers this week. Our prayer at the Legislature should and will stay. We need all the help we can get.
Posted by Brad Wall on Saturday, 18 April 2015

I for one welcome this position. I mean, who do we have to thank for bringing the prayer case in Saguenay all the way up to the Supreme Court -- well, on the pro-prayer side at least? Mayor Jean Tremblay, of course! He even ran successful fundraisers on government stationery to fund the lawyers! Boy, he was a character!

It looks like Brad Wall may be just the character to have the court, which ruled unanimously to ban prayer at the city level, revisit and clarify their already very clear judgement. Maybe then they'll make it crystal clear (unlike Wascana Lake in the summer) that prayer before provincial legislative sessions is definitely verboten.

I'm sort of half kidding though. Please do email the good premier and let him know how ridiculous he's being (respectfully of course) at premier@gov.sk.ca.

Brad Wall mentions:
“I have not had one complaint. Not one concern registered. We’re very fortunate in Saskatchewan to have seen unprecedented population growth and we’re attracting people from all over the world,” Wall said Saturday from his home in Swift Current.

It doesn't change the fact that it's government endorsement of an Anglican prayer.

What does population growth have to do with this?

P.S. No offence to Regina. I like the city plenty.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Mississauga City Council By-Election Candidates Answer Questions About State-Church Separation

Mississauga City Hall. By Mikerussell (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that prayer before city council meetings is not legal - at least when it comes to the city of Saguenay in Quebec. Over the past few days, cities and provinces across our country are trying to decide how this ruling applies to them (read: often, how they can keep praying).

Mississauga citizen Derek Gray, who appeared before his city council to inform them that their reciting of the Lord's Prayer is against the law in Ontario, recently sent the current batch of candidates in the next city by-election a questionnaire. It's about the separation of church and state and the place of prayer in the council chamber. He was nice enough to share the results with me.

Out of 26 candidates, 8 actually responded in some fashion (mostly partial responses). Remember, the questions were sent before the Supreme Court decision came out. Derek added a column for post-ruling responses, but it remains mostly empty of answers. What is there is uninteresting agreement with the ruling.

Now it looks very much like, at long last, the Mississauga city council will stop prayer before meetings. Although this could make the particular Mississauga case moot, I still think that some of the responses to the questions are pretty enlightening. They sort of act like a lens into the minds of would be city level politicians. I really think that questionnaires should be sent to all city councilors and candidates, especially those who want to keep prayer in council. Mind you, they'd probably not respond to it.

Although there were eight questions, I will skip a few of them because the answers were not interesting to me. If you would like to request the results to Derek's questionnaire, you can contact him at secular@mudflye.org.

The first interesting question is Do you support the concept of "separation of church and state"? Most everyone who bothered to do the survey answered with a simple affirmative. A couple were quite passionately in the affirmative.

Some were quite passionate:
Yes. There are many values that are promoted by all religions that can build great people. The people can participate in politics, not the religions. However, people do not exist in a vacuum. I don't think all mention of religion needs to be banned from politics. Religious values can be shared, but should not be a component in political decisions. - Jason Frost

Yes, absolutely. I don't think clerics should be running government unless they have been freely elected to do so. - Michael Madej
One in particular really stood out, though and surprised me. Rabia Khedr's idea that separation of church and state is an American-only thing.
Separation of church and state is an American concept, not Canadian. In fact, our defining document – The Charter of Rights and Freedoms – in its opening statement and preamble says:  Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:  Yes. We are a multicultural and multifaith (including non-faith affiliations) society with a tradition of Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity and significant Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish populations whose needs have to be respected and balanced. - Rabia Khedr
All the more reason to get this nonsense out of the Charter! This is why we must be vigilant to not allow any words of religion seep into our government papers or ritual. As much as many evangelicals would like to deny it (when convenient), it's more than just a tradition or ritual, it really is a flag planted into the ground on behalf of religion -- namely, the Christian one. With Christian markers such as these, people -- even non-Christian politicians -- believe that Canada is a Christian Nation.

I found it a little surprising that Rabia, a member of a minority religion (Islam) who also has a physical disability (blindness), doesn't understand the idea of not setting up situations where one group has a clear and demonstrable privileged position over others.

Rabia also had this interesting response to the follow-up question: Brampton city council acknowledged the 1999 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling when it recently stopped reciting the Lord's Prayer at council meetings. A 2013 Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling also confirms that recitation of any form of prayer for the opening of city council meetings is illegal. If elected, would you commit to respecting these decisions?
Tribunal decisions are necessary to address competing rights. No prayer at all would satisfy the 25% of the population who have no faith.  Some form of silent reflection or rotating prayer would satisfy just about everyone. In a diverse society, competing rights and interests are natural. It is necessary for leaders including elected officials to find balance and resolve in order to foster a greater sense of inclusion for all before legal avenues are pursued. - Rabia Khedr
Why must we have this prayer everywhere? Can we keep it out of just this one place? Shouldn't that make everyone happy? A moment of silent reflection would do.

Incidentally, 3.2% of Canadians are Muslim, which is considerably less than 25%. Of course, if all prayer were banned, this wouldn't matter at all.

Anyway, I've run into this idea that strict secularism is not a Canadian ideal. This is the idea that rather than keeping all religions out, we can somehow have all religions in. We would have a huge fantastic party! We all know how well religions mesh and agree with each other when it comes to policy, don't we? We also all know how well religions foster inclusion and encourage equal time to other, competing, belief systems, don't we?

So, it does make sense that Rabia answered in the affirmative to the next question: Do you support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the protections that it affords to minority cultures and beliefs?
Yes, I fully support our charter protections and human rights laws. Section 27 makes it clear that Canada is indeed a multicultural nation. - Rabia Khedr
Another question: Do you support the recitation of the Christian "Lord's Prayer" at the opening of city council meetings? This got a unanimous no-ish from all respondents -- so we can be fairly sure that the yes team didn't bother with the questionnaire at all.
Although I am very comfortable with public expressions of individual faith, I don’t feel that one should be given preference over others in the public sphere in a diverse society. - Rabia Khedr
Yes and No.  I don't mind religious values being shared as a commencement to council chambers, but I don't think that it should be the exclusive recital.  I think that tradition is important, and Mississauga has a long tradition of great representation in municipal politics.  I think that Christians would be surprised at the insights of similar prayers from different religions and cultures. - Jason Frost
Someone call the Satanists! By far, Steven King's response is the most interesting here:
No, and I'm sure even Jesus would agree. Even though I am comfortable with the Lord's Prayer from my public school youth when it was the norm, and having been baptized a Catholic, it is not a generic prayer. It is indeed a Christian prayer. It was taught by Jesus to his disciples as a personal meditation and not meant to be a public prayer or statement. Before Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer he gave instruction in Mathew 6:5-6

"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites/gentiles; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.…"

 So, in actuality, the public recitation of The Lord's Prayer contravenes Christ's original teaching,  may suggest favouritism, could be offensive to other faiths and beliefs, and in Ontario goes against court order. -- Steven King
Love it!

The last of Derek's questions I found interesting was: If you answered 'no' to the previous question, what do you feel is the best way to open city council meetings?
Hello everyone, may God bless you all. As humans we as councillors can make mistakes but knowingly we will never do it and we'll serve people in full honesty. - Amir Ali
There are a variety of ways to foster a greater sense of inclusion including a moment of silent reflection, a non-denominational supplication, a spiritual artistic expression, rotating prayers of different faiths, etc. We need creativity and courage to break with tradition while keeping the core principle behind it. - Rabia Khedr
I would have to understand the specific context of your question.  If we are trying to apply a ruling on a provincial matter to municipal tradition then I would have to explore it in detail.  My comments above though still stand that often literal law stifles human interaction.  If we are talking about The Lords Prayer, then I don't think this is about law. I think it's a small tradition that is fine, but needs to be "adjusted" not extinguished. - Jason Frost
"I would suggest the playing of ""O Canada."" It seems to be the the new norm in schools. Jehovahs Witnesses might not stand, or leave the room as their take on religion is to make no importance of anything but Jehovah. Atheists might object to the generic mention of God in the English version. Definitely the French version has  Christian overtones in ""portez la Croix"" - although historical research shows the cross has been around a long time before it was picked up as a Christian symbol.

For the most part I think O Canada is the best choice as it demonstrates the reason for meeting: our commitment to community,  city building and hence nation building. I suspect the wording may one day also be challenged in the courts but at the moment it stands as legal.

Alternatively, a moment of silence as only the melody of O Canada  is played might work the best."  - Michael Madej
"O'Canada would be a good start.

If not that then it does not matter to me, I am there to get down to business and get to the job of service before self." - Steven King
Exactly! City councillors have a job to do and they represent all of us. So if elected, this batch should get down to business and put the service before yourselves!

Thanks again to Derek Gray for his stand in front of the council in defence of secularism and for the questionnaire, which you can request by email: secular@mudflye.org.

Correction: I originally posted that these were current council members. In reality these are candidates for an upcoming Mississauga city by-election for Ward 4.

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