Feb 262013
 

Luke Fevin did a great job representing the SEA on Breakfast Television yesterday morning. The video is up on their website here:

http://video.citytv.com/video/detail/2187647437001.000000/athiests-and-the-office-of-religious-freedom/

If you want to know all of what Luke wanted to talk about, read on!

RE: Opening of The Office for Religious Freedom

I think that before we go off around the World telling everybody else what to do, I think we have to take a look at ourselves first and ask ourselves “are we walking the walk?”

Given that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that ALL religions have equal rights that seems at odds with the preferential treatment accord the Catholic religion both in Ontario & here in Alberta with our fully funded Catholic schools. In fact the United Nations Committee on Human Rights has censured Canada TWICE for these discriminatory & unfair systems. Yet we seem quite happy to ignore this.

A senior Canadian Court (Zylberberg v Sudbury Board of Education, 1988) also ruled that segregating children in our Public Schools into ‘Christians’ and “Everybody else” for the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer denied minority religion and non-religious children their Charter Rights – it denied them the “Fundamental Freedom” of “Freedom FROM religion” – yet not only do we continue this practice every day in Albertan Public Schools, it’s actually part of the latest Education Act.

So here we are knowingly discriminating against minority religions with tax payer money and denying our children their Charter Rights in our Public Schools. Yet we don’t seem that worried about either.

That hypocrisy doesn’t seem like the best basis for us to go and tell other people what to do.

As far as the actual Office of Religious Freedoms is concerned there are a number of worrying signs.
Firstly, John Baird (Foreign Affairs Minister) closed last year the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development after quarter of a century. A vehicle that seemed a far more appropriate way to go about tackling this issue.

Instead he has opened the Office of Religious Freedoms and while he consulted with a number of religious groups, not one secular group was invited to participate. This is not perhaps surprising given his 2012 statement, “We know that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.”. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs may be surprised to learn that the Supreme Court of Canada disagrees with him. (R. V Big M Drug Mart,1985)

Further, another statement from him last year, “We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defense in the same way persecuted religious minorities are.” would suggest that he is either unfamiliar or unconcerned with the reality for a large number of the two billion non-religious human beings in this World (more than a third of the World’s population and growing).

If he was to familiarize himself with the report produced last year; ‘Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Nonreligious’ he would be aware that discrimination and persecution against the non-religious goes on in at least 60 countries around the World.

I can be executed by the state in 7 countries for simply not believing in a god.
It is illegal for me to be an atheist in dozens of others, including some where I can lose my citizenship from the country of my birth for being an atheist.

The non-religious are routinely jailed in many countries, sometimes for blasphemy – such as the case with Alexander Aan in Indonesia who made the mistake of posting “There is no god” on Facebook. He was attacked by an angry mob. Sentenced to two and a half years for blasphemy. And then severely beaten by the other inmates in prison for the same crime.

Just last week in Bangladesh tens of thousands of angry protesters rioted (resulting in 4 dead), demanding the death sentence for 4 atheist bloggers.

In a number of countries I can be denied health care, education, the right to drive, the right to adopt children, the right to marry.

The right to freedom of expression, equality and security of the person should and do supersede the right to religion-based practices . The Human rights & wellbeing of women, of gays and of children must come before ‘Religious Freedoms’. “Religious Freedoms” are recognized as being superseded by fundamental Human Rights by both International Law & The Supreme Court of Canada. Yet these laws and rights are rountinely ignored and violated for religious privilege.

But it isn’t just happening in the countries you might consider the most likely suspects. We see Religious Privilege put ahead of fundamental human rights in Western Countries too. Even here in Canada we have laws against ‘the promotion of hatred’, yet there are special exemptions in that legislation which permit the expression of opinions on religious subjects and opinions based on religious texts which would otherwise be prohibited.

Last year in the UK a man was threatened with arrest under the Public Order Act if he did not take a sign down from his window saying “religions are fairy stories for adults”. Now balance that against the thousands of churches, billboards, advertisements & literature that make often all manner of positive assertions regarding religion.

In Poland a musician was fined $1,450 for ‘offending religious feelings’ when she said in a 2012 interview that the Bible is full of “unbelievable tales.”

In the US 7 states ban atheists from public office and one even prevents atheists from giving evidence in court.

Persecution & discrimination against the non-religious is rampant in the World, yet this office and the minister responsible for it seems to either not know or not care.

The sad irony of the whole situation is that this Office should really be called “The Office of protecting religious people from the religious oppression of religious people that think they are exercising their religious rights.”

I’m interested to see how the “Office of religious Freedoms” handles the issue of ‘blasphemy’. Will it clearly side with Canadian & International Law saying that criminalizing & punishing people (or threatening to do so) is totally unnacceptable – or will it be wishy-washy on the subject to try and placate the religious?

The same with ‘apostasy’ – death for leaving the religion of your family. Will it tackle the problem of millions & millions of humans being bullied into a denial of there most basic Rights, “Freedom of expression”,”Equality” & “Personal Security of the person”?

And what about basic ‘judgement’ & ostracization. It’s a real problem & not just ‘over there’. It happens here, the US, Europe. Wives shut up. Sons kotow. And children that disagree are cast out.

So given our government has an office to protect the religious, who’s looking out for the non-religious in all this?

Don’t think it’s real? I walked in to the studios this morning and the security guard said, “Thank You. I’m an atheist. Thank you for speaking up about this.” I’m in the Green Room and the ‘helper’ tells me the story of her Islamic friend here in Edmonton. She renounced Islam and was kicked onto the streets by her family at 13.

It was a sincere privilege to be able to represent SEA this morning and I thank you for that opportunity.