Showing posts with label chouinard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chouinard. Show all posts

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Columnist Hopeful That Atheists Will Stop "Ramming Their Minority Religion Down The Throats Of The Majority"

Licia Corbella on some kind of comedy talk show.
So it's been awhile since Grimsby atheist Rene Chouinard won his case against the Niagara School Board.  Basically the Board were giddy with the Gideons and were totally cool with them distributing their Bibles to fifth-graders on public school property.

You know, that Bible. The book that should carry a mature audience only rating and be kept far away from children. If they ever made an accurate movie of the whole thing it would be more sexually lurid and gruesome than some of the racier stuff to come out of Italy in the 1970s. Go find a film buff, they'll know what I'm talking about.

Well, it's been awhile since we've had a good anti-atheist tirade up here and it looks like one has been dished out. I give it a 2.1 on the Murphy Scale. A disappointing performance, really.

Corbella: Will atheism be held to account like other creeds?
The ruling stems from a complaint by Rene Chouinard, a Grimsby, Ont., father of three children, who describes himself as an atheist.
You know, Calgary Herald columnist Licia Corbella describes herself as a 'good Protestant girl'.  But who's to say?

That burning question left aside, she wrote this sarcastic little screed yesterday in response to atheists being treated with the same level of respect as those who believe in invisible men in the sky.
Well, hallelujah, praise the Lord! At long last, atheism is being declared a creed and is endowed with the same religious protections as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other faiths in Ontario schools, anyway.
... Anyway?

Corbella seems to be upset that atheism has been granted equal footing in the case as religions (in this case evangelical Christianity).

She claims that atheism has been declared a creed - which I wasn't so sure about in the last post I made about the decision. In fact, it turns out it was the Board itself that was arguing that Chouinard would only be capable of arguing discrimination if he had a creed to be discriminated against and since he didn't, he wasn't really a victim.

You see, to be a victim of religious overstep you need to be religious - anyone who isn't lacks the midi-chlorian cells in their blood, or something, to be properly subject to injury from religion.  As such they should not be listened to when they say they are offended. They lack the Force, and so can feel no pain. This likely explains why the new Office of Religious Freedoms only ever finds religious people as victims of religious intolerance (most likely at the hands of other religions) but fails to find any atheist or agnostic victims. It's their blood. They are not Jedi.

To get around this nonsense, it seems to me atheism was fitted into a sort of limited concept of creed while a very specific new better encompassing definition of creed was more or less left for another day.

Anyway, Corbella is thrilled by all of this.
This may be a leap of faith, but here’s hoping that maybe now, atheists — many of whom have proven themselves to be a highly motivated evangelistic group accustomed to ramming their minority religion down the throats of the majority — will face the same scrutiny of their beliefs as traditional faiths have been undergoing for decades in Canada at their behest.
And... ... ... What the hell?

Okay, I think Corbella has this the wrong way around. The whole point of the case was religion - in particular a Christian religion - was attempting to ram itself down the throats of children. And the school fought tooth and nail to keep it that way.

Yep,  another example of the majority Christian establishment falling back to defensive victim complexes whenever minority groups get their equal rights. I've seen it before. There was a whole conference that seems to have been about it in Montreal this year.
Already the rules allowed any other religious group to do what the Gideons have been doing for decades. But no others had applied, except for this persistent father.
I'm confident Corbella must have missed mention - in the judgement - of the Muslim group who's e-mail got mysteriously lost until the end of the school term. Then they got brushed off with a ridiculous and vague response. No warm invitations awaited them.
The Council of Imams asked, during the school year, to send religious material to be distributed in the schools. The Board responded two months later, in the summer, with a link to the policy, which is itself vague, and no information as to how to actually provide the materials as requested. Whether intentional or not, a reasonable reading of the e-mail would lead a reader to believe that the Board was not interested in encouraging or even facilitating the distribution of materials other than the Gideon Bible and the Board did not take the opportunity to ensure that there was more than one creed’s materials distributed in the schools.
Perhaps they just missed the notice?
"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."
So Gideons: 2; Atheists: 0; Muslims: 0. Christian win, Islamic and atheist fail. Coincidence, I'm sure.

And then I guess she needs to pad things out a bit or something. Everything goes flying off the rails and it's like I've been transported into a Dinesh D'Souza debate and there is no Christopher Hitchens there to verbally spank him. After dispensing a tired joke he begins to go on about how foul tyrants and their followers killed millions because they didn't believe in a guy in the sky rather than madly gripping a blind, irrational, fanatical, unquestioning, cult-like religious reverence and devotion to a political theory and ideological in group that will surely be the salvation of the human race. 

She goes onto make the absurd charge that those who participated in twentieth century atrocities and genocides were at the same time bowing down and worshipping nothing whatsoever. It was their firm believe in no god that drove them to perform some of the most inhuman acts imaginable rather than a fervent say religious belief that their way was the right way and that the means justified the ends.

The twentieth-century marked a kind of cult of political ideology. The kind of unquestioning fanaticism still present in the religious cult of personality in North Korea today.

And this really sticks in my craw.
Add to that the killing regimes of other atheist poster boys like Lenin, Khrushchev, Pol Pot, Nicolae Ceausescu, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il, to name just a few.
Atheist poster boys indeed! What a horrendous choice of words. Am I being characterized as being envious of these monsters?

Incidentally, the Party Faithful can still go worship Lenin's corpse at a tomb in Moscow. It's a political pilgrimage of sorts, not unlike paying reverence to saintly relics at Catholic shrines.  But thanks to another religion, his shrine may become empty in years to come when the Russian Orthodox Church declares it a heresy to visit him and enacts a law forbidding any remaining Communist adherents their visiting privileges. Of course, this is likely to only happen after the Church has reduced the country to little more than a theocratic fiefdom.
Think about this. Since these atheists have been successful in wiping out virtually any mention of the true meaning behind the national holidays of Christmas and Easter in our schools, for instance, doesn’t that mean that their minority religion is the one being adhered to in our schools to the exclusion of all others? Doesn’t that mean, then, that the creed of atheism is more equal than all other religions and that it is Christianity, primarily, which as the founding and majority ethic and creed of this country that has been discriminated against?
These atheists, indeed. Those people and their complaints about our majority Christian holidays. If they were good enough for the Natives then they're good enough for everyone.

I'm certain that good Protestants everywhere were responsible, in the blessed name of free market capitalism, for the near total dilution of any Christian meaning from Christmas and Easter - both inside and outside of the school. This is a boon to society and we must thank them for making the seasons infinitely more tolerable and, indeed very joyous.

And I'm certain that unless Corbella is referring to private Christian schools, she would recognize that our public schools here in Canada belong to all of us - atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain or Jew. Or is this just her way of letting us know we should be sending our children elsewhere? Perhaps another place? Perhaps some place well outside of that snow-topped steeple and horse-drawn sled pictured on your grandmother's old Christmas cookie tin?

Leave it to the group that has been so clearly privileged for so long to whine the loudest when the playing field is levelled and a group is actually allowed to have its human rights considered equally at long last.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Rene Chouinard Wins Human Rights Tribunal Case! No Religious Material Distribution Allowed at Niagara Public Schools!

Rene Chouinard
Last week, I contacted Rene Chouinard, the Grimsby Ontario father of two children who had finally appeared in front of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, three years after vowing to fight the Niagara Public School Board's decision to allow the distribution of Gideon Bibles and other religious material on school grounds.

For those who haven't heard of the case they can read all about it here on my blog.

On Friday, we had a good 45 minute talk on Skype. Rene cleared up a misconception I had about his case relying on atheism being a creed - it turns out it was the Board that was arguing that Chouinard would only be capable of arguing discrimination if he had a creed to be discriminated against and since he didn't, he wasn't a victim.

There was some discussion in the hearing about different meanings of the word creed and that it need not be a statement of religious belief, but rather a statement of belief about religion - a metaphysical position if you will.

Well, Rene also told me my timing was really good. Rumour had it that the person who was presiding over the case was looking to change jobs and the only way to clear themselves from their current position was to finish their case load. The inside chatter was that a ruling was imminent - as in within days or weeks.

Well, I never could have guessed it would be today!

I got a happy e-mail from Rene about an hour ago along with a link to the ruling.

In short, he won!

The full ruling is here and judging by my first glances at it, it's very reasonable.  I cannot wait to see the media response.

R.C. v. District School Board of Niagara, 2013 HRTO 1382 (CanLII)

Let's cut to the chase now, shall we?
ORDER
[77]        The Tribunal orders as follows:
1.  Both Applications are allowed. 
2.  Board policy G-22 as it now reads cannot be relied upon by the Board. 
3.  Unless it develops a new policy consistent with the Code principles set out in this Decision, the Board shall not permit the distribution of religious publications in its schools. 
4.  If the Board intends to develop a new policy permitting distribution of creed and religious publications in its schools, it shall finalize the policy within six months, and provide a copy of the new policy to the applicants and intervenors. 
5.  If any party to this case believes that the new policy or practices under it are inconsistent with the Code, it may write to the Registrar no later than one year from the date of this Decision and request that I decide the issue. 
6.  I shall remain seized of these Applications for the purpose of dealing with disputes about any new Board policy raised with the Registrar within one year of today’s date.
Or in more (beautiful) detail:
[74]        For these reasons, I find that the Board’s 2010 policy is also contrary to the Code, and will order a remedy to promote compliance with the Code. The decision about whether and how to redesign the policy should be that of the Board, the elected body that decides upon educational policy in Niagara. It is the Board’s choice whether to end the practice of distributing religious literature or to design a new policy that complies with this Decision and to decide upon the details of the policy. 
[75]        In view of the discrimination found in this Decision, policy G-22 will be declared invalid. The Tribunal’s Order will provide that no distribution of religious materials shall take place in the Board’s schools unless the Board designs a new policy consistent with the Code principles set out in this Decision. In order to ensure that any new policy complies with the Code, the Order will provide the Board with six months to develop any new policy and provide it to the applicants and intervenors. I will remain seized for one year to deal with any disputes about whether any new policy complies with the Code. This will facilitate and promote the primary place of local democratically elected representatives while ensuring that a remedy at the Tribunal is available in an expeditious manner if any party believes there continues to be discrimination.
The adjudicator, David A. Wright has a few brilliant statements in his judgement. I'll just paste a few here.
I understand that some parents and students may not agree with some of the content of atheist literature like “Just Pretend”. However, the applicant and others do not agree with some of the content of the Gideon Bible. If the Board decides to have a policy permitting distribution of religious literature, it must be prepared to accept that some parents and students might object to materials that others, with parental permission, are receiving. If it is prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of Christian texts to committed atheists, it must also be prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of atheist texts to religious Christians. 
Further it was judged that although the Board said it wanted to be inclusive of all religions, it actually made no effort at all to encourage any religion save the Gideons:
The Council of Imams asked, during the school year, to send religious material to be distributed in the schools. The Board responded two months later, in the summer, with a link to the policy, which is itself vague, and no information as to how to actually provide the materials as requested. Whether intentional or not, a reasonable reading of the e-mail would lead a reader to believe that the Board was not interested in encouraging or even facilitating the distribution of materials other than the Gideon Bible and the Board did not take the opportunity to ensure that there was more than one creed’s materials distributed in the schools.
As for whether or not Chouinard has a creed that can be discriminated against, the adjudicator wisely determined that it didn't actually matter whether or not atheism was a creed. It was still discrimination, plain and simple. This is the best possible outcome we could ever ask for because it means atheists do not need to be reduce their philosophical positions down to the level of just another religion to acquire the same basic human rights protections as religious people.
The respondent submits that atheism is a not a creed, and that the Application should be dismissed on the basis that the Code does not protect against discrimination because a person is atheist. The applicant and the CCLA take the position that atheism is a creed. The Commission takes the position that the issue need not be decided, because even if atheism is not a creed, discrimination against a person who does not have a creed is included in the protection against discrimination because of creed. The Commission notes that it is revising its policy on creed and does not ask that the Tribunal adopt the definition of creed in its 1996 Policy on creed and the accommodation of religious observances.
I'll no doubt read this ruling again and again because, as far as I can tell based on my first quick read-through, it's absolutely brilliant. It appears, at first glance at least, to be a clear and decisive victory for everyone who's interested in keeping religion out of our public schools.

You need to read it yourself!


Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!


Monday, 25 February 2013

Chouinard vs Niagara School Board: How Justice Must Work In a Broken System

Justice and the system. (image source)
At my work, I believe some people believe I'm a cynical bastard. They  probably get this idea because whenever I find any kind of problem, I tend to follow it back to another, and then to another and finally I point out that the entire system is flawed and screwed up.

I think lots of people who lean to the left in politics also have this problem and it affects our ability to work within a system that's fundamentally broken.  We get frustrated and try to change the whole system rather than leverage a broken system.  Or maybe it's just me.

This brings me to the case of Rene Chouinard vs Niagara School Board in Ontario.  The latest news in this story happened awhile back, but it's taken me awhile to figure out just how I want to react to it.  There's some serious leveraging going on here.

Tribunal considers whether atheism is a creed

Yes, that's the title of the story.  That the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is considering whether or not atheism is a creed is the first sign that there must be something quite wrong with things; the system. I know it's terribly cliche, but let's check to see what Merriam-Webster has to say in their online definition of creed.


Now how could this be?  At first, I was rather shocked by the whole thing.  I mean, isn't this precisely what many religious apologists would like us to do?  To define atheism as yet another religionOne that rotten secularists want to jam down the throats of hapless children in our public schools?

I'm afraid Grant LaFleche of the St. Catharines Standard got it right in It’s like saying bald is a hair colour when he categorically denies that atheism is a creed.
... And deciding it is one might set a ridiculous precedent. A bit like ruling not playing hockey is a sport. 
Look, the board meant well, I am sure. But our public schools are not there to create a captive audience for evangelists. That also means it’s not a soapbox for atheists to tell kids religion is ridiculous. There are better and more appropriate venues for both — at home, churches, bookstores, Youtube — but leave the schools out of it. 
Although I have the utmost respect for Chouinard and his plight - I find the idea of religious groups handing out material at public schools unacceptable - I find that I must agree with LaFleche on this one.  I think defining atheism as a creed goes too far.  I don't agree with this playing along with the system.

But is this real or just a game of legal chicken? I cannot help to think that this entire story so far, at every turn, has served to illustrate just how biased our entire culture is to religion and how little voice non-believers really have in this country, contrary to what the religious right would have you believe.

This story reads sort of like a literary exercise in Absurdity.  In order to try to effect change, the protagonist is forced, at every step, to behave in the opposite fashion to what any naïve onlooker would expect.  Each step along the way screams out the same ironic truth - that the only way to get heard when it comes to religious matters is to be religious.  Anyone not the the god club need not voice their concerns, thank you.

I've been covering this story along the way the best I could.  But here's a short and rough sketch for the uninitiated.

It begins with an atheist father in Grimsby who didn't want the Gideons peddling their religious pamphlets to children on public school property.  Of course, he is absolutely right. Public schools should not be theological battlegrounds for the souls of children at the time and expense of taxpayers.  But here's where the battle should have been fought out and remained, but somehow, like in some twisted plot of an Hellenic tragedy of yore, it got moved.

First problem.  Why are the Gideons allowed to proselytize to little children in public schools?

After asking the Board to stop, they decided to rewrite their rules so not only the Gideons could distribute their propaganda, every religion could.  So it became even worse.

Second problem.  Why are all religions allowed to proselytize to little children in public schools?

In response to this, Chouinard decides to apply for the right to distribute atheist material alongside the other groups. Why does Rene wish to do this?  It's not to proselytize.  It's to give the Board a little of their own medicine.  The idea was they would not tolerate the distribution of such material and so would expose their lack of inclusivity and would ultimately ban distribution from all and any group.  Besides, it's worked before in America and other places.

But it turned out that not just any religion could try to indoctrinate children on their campuses, so long as these religions were listed in a book.  So much for inclusivity.  Atheism, of course wasn't listed in the book as a 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.
Third problem.  In the interest of inclusivity, only religions listed in the book were allowed to influence the children.

It's here where there should have been some mechanism for Chouinard to activate. Maybe the US Office of International Religious Freedom could have helped him out?  No, I suppose they are only interested in the freedom of religious people, so I guess they'd be no good.  So Chouinard goes to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which sounds more logical, doesn't it?  But just wait and see - it gets ironic.

As a last resort, Rene went to the tribunal to show that he is being discriminated against.  But somehow the tribunal has apparently decided not to go back to the original battle lines, but to instead fight to be allowed to distribute literature alongside other religious groups.  And to be allowed to distribute, alongside religious groups with religious agendas, to the young and impressionable minds of public school children, atheism needs to be shown to be a creed so it can qualify as a protected!
“To get in the front door, you need to show that you enjoy the benefit of a protected group,” said lawyer Derek Bell.
Because apparently you need to be a special group (read: religion) to be protected enough to be able to distribute material to children in public schools.  This seems so completely absurd to me.  The fact Chouinard must resort to this strategy... to have his Human Rights protected by this Human Rights Tribual.  Isn't this special treatment of religious ideas over other ideas part of the whole problem?

Oh the irony.

It's like the cards were stacked so squarely against us to begin with that nobody is even going to consider bringing up the real problem here, to fight the underlying battle.  Why are religious groups allowed to hand out their religious materials to children at public schools, again?  Isn't that what got us to this point in the first place?

I'll end this with an excellent comment by reader MrPopularSentiment on my post Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Hearing Begins For Grimsby Atheist Rene Chouinard vs Niagara School Board.  Please go read it in its entirety.  I may post about the dilemma his organization had at a future time.
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?
 ... snip...snip...
... 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.
I can really see where he is coming from on this and I don't blame his organization at all.  Ultimately, the system is so ill-equipped for the secular, that this story and the plight of the Chouinard family calls attention to the absurd measures one is forced to take to get one's voice heard - to protect one's Human Rights.

Meanwhile, LaFleche concluded his opinion piece with this.
If we are really lucky, the tribunal will rule against Chouinard and tell the board to scrap its policy and keep sectarian interests out of our schools.
Win-win. One can only hope for the sake of the Chouinards and a better system.


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

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Canadian Separation of State and Church Activist Rene Chouinard on Freethought Radio

Rene with his 13 year old daughter. 
(image: Ottawa Citizen)
For all those fellow Canadians out there who have been following the story of the Chouinard family in Niagara Ontario who are trying to prevent the Gideons and any other religious group from proselytizing on school grounds, listen up!

In case you missed it, Rene Chouinard was interviewed this past weekend by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor on Freethought Radio!  The interview is excellent and it really fills in some more gaps in my knowledge.  It's a shame they had to cut him off at the end - but that's live radio.

A link is here: http://ffrf.libsyn.com/webpage/guest-rene-choulnard

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A couple of extra details and press reaction to Niagara couple who want to distribute Atheist material at local schools.

Well there is no faith in
Atheism.  So at least they
got that right.
Yesterday I posted about a Niagara Ontario couple who want the right to distribute two books by Dan Barker if the religious have the right to distribute their own Bibles, Books of Shadows, Qurans etc.  So far I've only encountered a fraction of the level of overblown crazy response I was expecting in the Media. Here's a brief update.

The National Post has the story Human rights case seeks equal billing for religion and atheism in schools.  It's pretty level-headed, but that's to be expected.  I'll wait for a commentary to come out in the next couple of days - I don't expect the Post to disappoint.

The article does describe how the Niagara board is bolstering their refusal to allow the Chouinards to distribute Dan's books:

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.
I first read Pastafarians!  Basically this is demonstrating that only religious material can be distributed to children at the schools.  And only these religions!  

This brings me to an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun (who should have been on my usual suspect list in my last post because they do like to cover stories like this).  Hassan gets it backwards wrong in Religion-free teaching and it seems like she's saying it's okay to let the Gideons keep doing what their doing, but just don't let contentious philosophical ideas be distributed on the school grounds.

She makes the charge that the Chouinards wish to distribute their atheistic literature to the exclusion of all other points of view.  But this is completely backwards.  The Multifaith Information Manual is allowing everything but an atheistic point of view onto the school grounds!  To me this smacks of a spectacular degree of religious privilege.  They are the only ones who get to deliver a message to the children and perhaps at some level Hassan sees this request as a threat.

And just to clear things up (source here):
“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.”
It's for one year and not at the exclusion of other books.  He is protesting the distribution of these religious books by trying to distribute his own.

One more quote for Hassan from the Ottawa Citizen (source):
So far, however, only Mr. Chouinard has applied under the new policy, although he said he has unsuccessfully canvassed other religious groups to do the same. "Most of them said they didn't think it was right to distribute material in the schools," he said.
It looks like in this case it's the Gideons and perhaps using the Multifaith Information Manual that are the real problems here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Niagara Elementary school children encouraged to distribute Bibles, not allowed to distribute a childrens book by Dan Barker.

The book on the right contains material that's just fine for
young elementary school kids.  The one on the right
however contains inappropriate material - Or so claims
the Niagara School Board in Ontario Canada.
After a two year struggle a couple in Niagara Canada will finally get a chance to bring up their request with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for the right to distribute Dan Barker's children's book Just Pretend - A Freethought Book for Children to grade five students at Niagara School Board schools.


The current story is here: Couple to debate right to distribute atheist book

An article from two years ago gives excellent background to the story and can be found here: Human rights complaint launched against DSBN - There’s no room for religion in public school system says Grimsby couple who filed tribunal

Ready!  Set!  Cue Sun News Network, Michael Coren, and the National Post!  Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Apparently the Gideons have been allowed to distribute Bibles for awhile and this problem seems endemic to Ontario public schools.  I recently covered a vote the Bluewater School Board held that successfully barred the Gideons from distributing their Bibles there back in April 2012.

Well back in 2010 the Niagara School Board decided more religion was to be encouraged on school premises.  Here's an explanation from the 2010 article that explains this:
On Feb. 23 the school board replaced its existing policy, which allowed Gideon International to distribute New Testaments to Grade 5 students within the board, with a new policy which opens the door for other religious groups to solicit information to students. The new policy caters to Niagara’s diverse population, said spokesperson Brett Sweeney.
 It was noted the distribution and evangelizing wasn't happening in the classrooms but merely on (publicly funded) school premises.  Brett believed this struck a good balance between those who wanted more religion at the school and those who were against any religion at the school.

The couple, Rene and Anna Chouinard are Secular Humanists and they oppose both the original law allowing just the Gideons to distribute their Bibles and the new 2010 law that allowed other religious groups to descend upon the school grounds.
“I object to public schools pushing religion,” said Rene, who has three children in the public system. “A school is not the place to push religion — no matter what religion it is.”
The couple has been complaining about this since their son entered a Niagara school in 2005 where Bibles were being regularly distributed.  So back as soon as the new law came into effect in 2010, they decided to test it for one year by requesting the right to distribute age-appropriate Secular Humanist literature to grade 5 students.  I'd like to just jump in here and say that there is no way a Bible would ever be age-appropriate for a grade 5 student!
 “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.”
And so the original article in 2010 ends with an update saying the Chouinards have files their request to distribute Dan Barker's book and were waiting for it to be reviewed by the board.

Fast forward to yesterday's article:
Rene and Anna Chouinard, who have three children, have been fighting with the board for more than two years to have an age-appropriate publication -- Just Pretend: A Free Thought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist -- distributed to Grade 5 students.
Lot getting busy with his daughers - Biblical style.
Apparently the school board rejected their request to distribute Dan's book because it contained content that was inappropriate  for distribution!  As if the Bible doesn't contain some real gems of inappropriate stories for children!
But a board lawyer told the tribunal that no religious group was discriminated against and “Just Pretend” contained content that was “inappropriate” for distribution.
They better have a really good technical reason.

I recommend the Board take a look at my Fathers in the Bible or my Teaching Religious Mythology series to enlighten themselves.  Or why not just read the damn book.  If they still believe it's appropriate for children then perhaps they require professional help.

If anything, this reminds me to order the book for my own kid!

Search This Blog