Showing posts with label state-church separation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label state-church separation. Show all posts

Friday, 24 July 2015

Declaring Christianity Liberia's National Religion Risks Destabilizing Entire Country


There's a fascinating piece over at Think Progress about the perilous situation Liberia finds itself in as some local Christian groups there are fighting to have the country declared a Christian Nation.
In April, lawmakers successfully proposed a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would reinstate Christianity as the official state religion. This attempt follows Christian leaders’ fruitless efforts in 2013 to submit a similar petition to lawmakers in the Liberian House and Senate.
Christian groups - and apparently the vast majority of Liberians - seem to want this to happen. However, minority religious groups in the country are calling for secularism and no state endorsement of any religion.
Now that it’s in President Sirleaf’s hands, the proposal could appear on a national referendum next year — a possibility that troubles Liberian followers of Islam who are concerned about the advent of state-sanctioned persecution and marginalization.

Earlier this year, protesters converged on the site of a constitutional conference to demand the constitution remain unchanged. “Liberia is not for Christians. Liberia is not for Muslims. Liberia is for everybody. We don’t want Liberia to be for only one group of people,” protest leader Hajah Swaray told the Anadolu news agency. “It would not be fair to see one group marginalized. We have 16 tribes in Liberia. Some people are Muslims, while others are Bahai or embrace traditional religions. Let’s just live as we are.”
The article goes on to point out that increased tribal and ethnic tension - presumably also religious conflict - has preceded both gruesome civil wars in the country.

It's a fascinating read and shows how secularism is something which ought to be sought after by not only atheists, but the religious as well.

(Image source)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

New Fundraiser to Combat State-Enforced Bible Study In Guatemala


Gail Miller from Atheist Alliance International has alerted me of some pretty nefarious things afoot in overwhelmingly Christian Guatemala.

Congressman Marvin Rocael Osorio Vásquez got a memo from the creator of the entire Universe saying everybody in his country needs to be taught the Biblical values, whether they like it or not.

(Or - assuming he's not merely pandering to his religious political base - he's hearing voices inside his head and basing legislation which affects others upon aural hallucinations.)
Over the course of the last 9 months, a congressman claiming he received "explicit instructions from God" during a "divine revelation," has been planning and writing a bill proposal gathering support from local Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and organizations. The proposed bill was presented to Congress last Wednesday (July 15th) in a religious act inside Congress.
Here's the sort of thing this mandatory course would require:
  • ALL schools in Guatemala, both public and private, are forced to teach a weekly "Biblical Values" class. They must employ special teachers to teach them and certified "chaplains" to serve as "spiritual guides" to students.
  • ALL students regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack of them, are required to attend these classes and obtain a passing grade. Effectively violating the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
  • Government must allocate resources to pay for all of this in its National Budget, thus violating the important principle of separation of Church and State. It means taxpayers end up paying for religious instructions that should be paid for by individual churches and interested parents, not everyone.
This is state-endorsed religion, effectively eliminating any pretense of secularism within the country. It bears a striking resemblance to borderline theocracies like Turkey or Egypt.
This eliminates every option for parents that want their children to get a strictly secular education. If this bill passes, ALL education in Guatemala will have a religious element, based on a "literal and grammatical" interpretation of a particular Protestant version of the Christian Bible.
The eagerness these Christian groups have to become state-sanctioned and ram their doctrine down children's throats is rather sickening.

There is a fundraiser to combat this evil law set up today by the Asociación Guatemalteca de Humanistas Seculares. The are trying to raise $8000 in the next month to support a legal and media defense in Guatemala for the sake of secularism and freedom of  and freedom from religion.

We aim to protect the rights of every parent to select and every child to receive a secular education, if that is what they want. This is what Secular States are all about: protecting the religious freedom of all individuals by not privileging any one religion over another. We already took our first step by presenting a formal complaint to our local Human Rights Commissioner. We are highly motivated to fight for these rights all the way to the end, but we need more monetary resources to cover everything we need to do so. 
This campaign is legit, you can read about it over at the National Secular Society as well.

Also, watch this video produced by the group. Make sure to turn on English subtitles, if you don't understand Spanish.


Five hundred has been raised in the first day. Let's keep the momentum going for the sake of secularism in Guatemala - for the sake of non-Christian religions and atheists and humanists in this predominantly Christian country which may sink into theocracy.

Help us keep education secular in Guatemala

(Image source)

Monday, 13 July 2015

Newfoundland Public School Will Not Display Bible Verse

The old school building. Photo © Adam Randell at The Northern Pen (source) and used with permission.
Edit 2015-07-28: Reader Shawn the Humanist (@ShawnHumanist) has pointed out that the link to the article has changed. I've updated it below, accordingly. Shawn has also found an actual interview with the man who put the verse onto the wall. Apparently, he is no fan of religion, but figured the verse should be up for historical reasons.
“Religion is as far from me as the east star is from the west,” he said. “It was on the previous school and I thought that it was appropriate to put it back on the new one.”


Saint Anthony is a small town near the northern tip of Newfoundland. Last week, there was some controversy there because the public school board is not so keen on plastering a Bible verse on the new school that's being constructed.
It has been established that the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has no plans of transferring the bible verse – "All thy children shall be taught of the lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children." – to the new school; a verse that has been placed on town schools since the early 1900s.
Apparently the sign came originally from a school built by Sir Wilfred Grenfell in 1900 and later moved to St. Anthony's Elementary School in the 1970s. Some city councillors expected the verse to be moved to the newly constructed White Hills Academy, but the publicly funded school district wisely chose to not do it.

The Mayor still expressed some surprise that anyone would consider a Bible verse instructing us to teach children about god and donated to what was likely a Christian school by a Christian missionary like Grenfell as religious.
However, Mayor Ern Simms said that isn't the case, and council was told by the school district that any plaque at the new school would have to be non-religious.

"I didn't look at that as being religious, and a lot of people didn't and still don't," he said.

"I look at it as something that Grenfell always worked with — he worked with everyone. He worked with all people as a doctor and apparently he was partly missionary as well, and he worked with everybody in that area."
In a small town like Saint Anthony, I suppose this might not seem too apparent. It's nice that the school board is proactively taking steps to be secular without waiting for a complaint.
 “Since it was first placed, children from every religion in the world have gone to St. Anthony Elementary, and there has never, ever, been a complaint from anybody about it,” said Simms.
The city council will seek input from local residents before making a final decision. Up to now, the school has done good and I hope the city council will honour this decision in the name of state-church separation.

Some have suggested that the sign be donated to the local Grenfell Historical Society, which seems eminently reasonable.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Poll: Canadians Would Prefer Politicians to Skip the Praying & Do Their Jobs!

From Angus Reid poll Prayer in Canadian Public Life: a Nation Divided. (source)
A recent poll done by Angus Reid (on registered members only) rather clearly demonstrates that Canadians would rather have their politicians do their jobs than squabble over whether or not Jesus is addressed before each meeting.
The latest public opinion poll from the Angus Reid Institute finds that fewer than half (41%) of respondents support the idea of a Christian prayer referring to Jesus Christ at the beginning of a council meeting, compared to nearly twice as many (75%) who say the meeting should just start without any formal ceremony or pause.
The results are pretty much as expected, yet still refreshing.

Geographically speaking, the secular hubs of Canada, British Columbia (65%) and Quebec (63%) agree the most with the Supreme Court Saguenay prayer ruling, while Bible beating Saskatchewan (47%) and Atlantic Canada (43%) are the least -- still, those are still pretty close to 50%.

Demographically speaking, the younger generations are much less worked up about ditching the supernatural invocations at government meetings.

From Angus Reid poll Prayer in Canadian Public Life: a Nation Divided. (source)
Not many people really seem to care about God being in the National Anthem -- which is a pity. Apparently, more people were interested in seeing the anthem made gender neutral. I can get behind that.

On the whole, excellent news which seems to demonstrate that Canadians really do not give much of a hoot about praying in the public sphere. They just want politicians to get to work. I think this could be a stark contrast with how things are in the US.

I wonder if certain politicians who've make a public stink out of this will perhaps tone down their fervent defense of religious ritual -- victim theatre -- before sessions when they've read the results of this poll?

Church Having Problems Finding New Location Because They Don't Pay Taxes

United Pentecostal Church in St-Laurent, Quebec. (source: Google Maps)
There was a highly sympathetic story done by CTV News last night for the United Pentecostal Church in my home borough of St-Laurent. The church has been doing very well and has completely outgrown their building, which seats 600 with a congregation of some 1,200 people. This puts them within reach of the megachurch designation -- a big deal for secular Quebec.
Pastor Paul Graham, who has been with the church for almost 40 years, tells CTV Montreal that the 600-seats are simply not enough for the 1,200-or-so who use the church but the borough has not made relocation easy
Take a look at the language in the story and you'll see a framing not unlike David vs Goliath

Listen, I can sympathize to a point. Dealing with city hall can be frustrating. In this case the church is looking for another location, but the city has so far refused to allow these said locations to be rezoned to places of worship.
Borough Mayor Alan DeSousa has said that the borough want to stick with its master plan and would prefer to avoid rezonings.
Their master plan is to try to maximize property taxes as much as possible and the pastor of the church, Paul Graham, is nice enough to remind us that churches don't pay property taxes. So the city would be going from a position of losing tax money on a 600 person building to a 1,200 person building -- a building the size of a retail store... likely with a parking lot to boot.

So it's nothing against Christians, per se. It's just that they're not paying their fair share -- assuming taxes are the reason.
Pastor Graham believes a big issue for the city is tax revenue. Property taxes aren't collected on places of worship.
Well no wonder I had to pay last year's property taxes in two instalments! I had to pay for the churches as well! If they would pay property taxes like the rest of us, the city wouldn't be giving them a hard time. They would welcome them with open arms just like any company. Problem solved!

I guess privileged status has it's downsides too, right?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Peterborough City Council Poised to Permanently Drop Recital of Lord's Prayer

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)
Shortly after the landmark Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in Saguenay city council meetings in mid April, the city of Peterborough put their own council meeting prayers on ice to re-evaluate the question of state sponsored invocation of deities. In fact, they were praying the Lord's Prayer which had been ruled against fifteen years ago by a provincial court.

For at least three years, Veronica Abbass, who blogs at Canadian Atheist, has been trying to get the city to comply with the law and drop the Lord's Prayer. Well, it looks like the city has finally complied.

A proposed change to the city's Municipal Act aims to replace the reciting of the Lord's Prayer with this invocation:
The Council for the City of Peterborough recognizes the principles contained in our Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that enshrine rights and freedoms for all. We also acknowledge that our Constitution provides that Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.
That last line is factually correct, but is obviously some piece of red meat or token offering to those who just cannot deal with dropping any God mentions at all. Even with that, it's an improvement over an obvious prayer and Abbass is not concerned.
Ms Abbass says she’s not concerned over the new wording for the opening of municipal meetings, she just wanted to ensure the City didn’t continue to go against a court ruling prohibiting the practice.
Remember, her case was about the Lord's Prayer.

The council endorsed the removal of the prayer on Monday, but it still awaits final approval at an upcoming council session. However, the city has already signed off on her case, which ought to bring the matter to a close.

Congratulations to Veronica!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Atheist Former Councilor Taking Legal Action Against Cape Breton City Council For Continued Prayer

(source)
Just last week, Pagans protested a moment of silent prayer, invocation and reflection at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) which was meant to replace an obviously Christian spoken prayer in the wake of the Supreme Court decision April 15th to remove prayer at city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec.

The meetings happen monthly, and the Pagans were protesting the city doing a fairly half-assed job following the spirit of the Saguenay ruling the month before.

You see, technically, there was no prayer said out loud during the April 21st meeting, but:
At the April 21 council meeting, Mayor Cecil Clarke hosted a vocal prayer outside the chamber and had the prayer printed in the agenda in defiance of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that banned a Quebec municipality from holding prayers at council meetings.
He didn't stop there, he also inserted God Save the Queen and Oh Canada into the program -- because they mention God.
He also had the singing of O Canada and God Save The Queen added to the agenda in order to work the word God into the session.
How wonderfully inclusive!
After the April meeting, several councillors objected to the mayor’s inclusion of prayer in contravention of the ruling, saying a moment of silent reflection would be more appropriate.

However, the text of the prayer was printed in the May 19 agenda, and the third item listed on the agenda is “Moment of silent prayer, invocation and reflection.”
If you would like to get a general idea about just how the council members feel about this -- which clearly demonstrates why they'll do anything to not follow the ruling in good faith -- just watch the conversations they had (41:33) about prayer in city meetings on that day.


My favourite part:
There are scientists now who are believing that there is something outside of science besides themselves. There are scientists who believe there is something bigger than science going on and there are books written about that.
Say what?

Here's the rub. They did all this after receiving confidential legal council advising them to stick with a moment of silence and mention nothing at all about prayer, a 'moment of prayer' or whatever! They were clearly warned that there could be a lawsuit and real damages -- for taxpayers, of course.

We know this because a legal memo from their counsel was recently leaked(!) -- first to resident Madeline Yakimchuk who opposes state endorsed prayer and posted the legal memo to her Facebook.
Yakimchuk said the top court ruling was “very clear” that religion has no place in municipal meetings, and the legal advice from municipal solicitor Demetri Kachafanas, provided days before the council meeting, clearly warned council about its duty to be neutral.

“This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief,” Kachafanas wrote. “It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.

“Being neutral is not simply not favouring one religion over another, it would extend to a duty not to favour religion over non-religion and the rights of non-believers. A prayer is in and of itself a religious act.

“Simply defying the ruling and continuing the prayer may expose the municipality to a legal challenge and quite likely damages.”
Well, all of this has lead atheist and former city councilor, Garry Smith (of previously separate Glace Bay) to inform the city that he is calling in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to investigate prayer in city council meetings.
Any kind of prayer at a public council meeting that assumes belief in any type of god — regardless of how inclusive it is intended to be — excludes his beliefs, Smith said.

“Once you put a prayer on a piece of paper, that piece of paper becomes a religious icon,” said Smith.
Smith is okay with a moment of silence, as am I, but that's not what it says on the program.

In addition to being a former municipal councilor, Smith is also a retired RCMP and corrections officer.
“To me, it smacks of religious arrogance on behalf of the mayor. ‘This is what I believe and you’re all entitled to hear and listen to my belief,’ and I’m not. I don’t want to listen to his belief.

“I don’t want to hear it from the state, of all places. If I wanted to hear a prayer, I’d go to a church downtown, or some place where I wanted to hear a prayer. When I go to municipal meetings, or any state function, I don’t expect to hear, ‘God, forgive me for what I’m about to do,’ all that sort of stuff.”
Right now, municipalities across the country are sort of hair-splitting any way they can to avoid following the spirit of the Saguenay ruling. A common refrain is that the Supreme Court ruled narrowly on just this Quebec town -- although it was a strong unanimous decision. If this legal route is pursued all the way up to the highest court, it has the potential -- in several years -- to trigger a more general ruling against state-endorsed prayer in municipal meetings that would shut this sort of silliness down for good.

So it might be wise for the CBRM to just have their moment of silence; legally prudent.

via Veronica Abbass

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.

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:

Friday, 1 May 2015

Egyptian Atheists Collecting Signature to Form Official Secular Party

Cairo (source)
I just wrote about the formation of an atheist television station in Egypt.

Another amazing story coming out of Egypt has to do with the formation of a Secular Party. I've heard that Egypt was once a true bastion of secularism within the Middle East, actually -- then the war in 1967 apparently changed everything.
According to Al-Watan newspaper, Egyptian atheists have launched a campaign on Facebook to collect signatures for a party that they would call the “Egyptian Secular Party," which would include secularists, atheists and liberal thinkers. It would also be committed to defend freedom of belief and atheism, and work on removing Egypt's Islamic identity from the Constitution.
Alber Saber has been pushing for a proper Egyptian constitutional amendment since at least 2011 for the same reasons.
This is not a constitution. I have a problem for example with Article 44 that says prophets and other religious figures cannot be insulted. Who defines insult? Christians do not believe Muhammad is a prophet, is that an insult? If a Christian says that, should they be put on trial? Muslims do not believe Jesus is God, is that an insult?
Atheist Hisham Auf represents the new initiative, which plans to collect at least 5,000 signatures from 10 governorates within Egypt to justify the formation of a new party. (Naturally, there are only 866 atheists in the country. So how is this possible, right?)
“It will explain what secularism really means in order to refute the misleading definition propagated by the Islamists,” he said. “We do not intend to have a majority party, but rather a party of an influential minority.”

He added that the party will call for a modern constitution, based on the principle of citizenship, the abolition of religious parties, reducing the role of Al-Azhar in political life and its guardianship of thought, art and the media, and the right to civil marriage for Muslims and Christians.

He also said the party will also address inheritance and personal status laws, remove religious affiliation from ID Cards, call for abolishing laws penalizing the defamation of religion, and support freedom of creativity and art.
I've already run across some opposition to this new party (original Arabic), but -- predictably -- nobody has given me the actual link to this new party's Facebook page. Can anyone help me with this? I'll add to this post when I find out.

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!

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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