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May 17 2012

Full interview with Ashu Solo

Here is the unedited e-mail interview with Ashu Solo.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself: where you’re from, what your personal background (i.e., education, occupation, hobbies) is, how long you’ve lived in Saskatoon.

 

I’m an interdisciplinary researcher, electrical engineer, computer engineer, intelligent systems engineer, political and public policy engineer, mathematician, and entrepreneur. I’m also a progressive political writer, progressive activist, and civil rights activist. I’m currently a representative on the Saskatoon Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee, an advisory committee to Saskatoon City Council. I served honorably as an infantry officer and platoon commander understudy in the Cdn. Army Reserve.

 

I’m the author, editor, or associate editor of 364 engineering and math research and political commentary publications. I’ve created new branches of math, which are published. I’ve defined and originated new interdisciplinary fields, which are published.

 

My hobbies are an extremely wide variety of combat sports, extreme sports, and physical conditioning. My favorite sports to do are kickboxing and mixed combative arts.

 

I was born and raised in Saskatoon. I’ve lived in Saskatoon for about 30 years.

 

2. The details of the story are fairly well-publicized. Do the media accounts fairly match your own description, or is there anything missing/misleading in the stories?

 

I think some of the bloggers have the mistaken impression that Councillor Randy Donauer was praying to himself. He was trying to lead the entire extremely diverse audience in a Christian prayer.

 

Many in the media have no understanding of Saskatoon politics and how there have already been numerous complaints about Mayor Don Atchison and Councillor Randy Donauer abusing their government offices for Christian indoctrination. They think this was an innocent one-time mistake by them. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an ongoing problem with them for which they have already received significant criticism.

 

3. Tell me about the interactions you’ve had from the mayor’s office. Has he made the attempt to reach out and understand your position?

 

I’ve sent about a dozen emails to Don Atchison and Randy Donauer and copied them to City Council as well as various media outlets. Atchison and Donauer haven’t bothered to respond to any of them. Justin Trottier from the Centre for Inquiry Canada also left messages for Atchison and Donauer about this issue. Atchison and Donauer never bothered calling him back too. Atchison and Donauer obviously have no interest in discussing this issue.

 

4. From an outsider’s perspective, your correspondence with the city appears very combative. For example, you mention that you are considering suing the city for implying that you do not support freedom and tolerance. Is there anything that sparks this anger besides the prayer and subsequent dismissive attitude from the city?

 

Great freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President John F. Kennedy were motivated by anger at injustice in my opinion, but that anger was protagonistic in that it motivated them to fight to make the world a better place. I’m also motivated by anger at injustice, but my anger is protagonistic, not antagonistic.

 

The anger is sparked by the threatening, racist, and bigoted backlash against me by conservative Christian supporters of Atchison and Donauer, my belief that Atchison and Donauer have endangered my life by not ending this matter, the lies of Don Atchison and Randy Donauer about me to the media, the abuses of office by Atchison and Donauer, and the fact that I need to keep standing up against the religious discrimination and bigotry of Atchison and Donauer.

 

In more detail, I would say that my anger about this case is sparked by these factors:

 

1. The threatening, racist, bigoted, intolerant, profane, and nasty backlash from conservative Christian supporters of Atchison and Donauer.

 

2. Atchison and Donauer are endangering my life by prolonging this case. I think they’re endangering my life because I was on the receiving end of threatening remarks. They’re prolonging this case by refusing to apologize and refusing to stop Christian prayers at civic events.

 

3. The extreme abuse of government offices by Atchison and Donauer to try to impose their religious beliefs on others who don’t share them at a taxpayer funded municipal government event.

 

4. Atchison’s lies to the media about me where he falsely claimed that I’ve done all of my dialog through the media when I’ve sent him about a dozen emails and he has only responded through the media.

 

5. Donauer’s clear implication that I’m against freedom and tolerance. I didn’t say I would sue the city. I said I would consider suing Atchison and Donauer for libel and slander about me.

 

6. Atchison’s clear implication on News Talk 650 CKOM that this is a Christian city.

 

Other than this event, the only other event from my past that drives me to stand up against religious discrimination and bigotry is there was a Christian Lord’s prayer in assemblies and Christmas plays in assemblies at Saskatoon Public Schools when I was in elementary school. I’m angered by this attempt at Christian indoctrination using the public school system and their failure to ever apologize for it. I wish I would have stood up against this as a kid, but that’s hard to do when one is in elementary school.

 

5. You detail a number of abusive correspondance you’ve received on your website. A website calling itself “The Canadian Immigration Report” calls your fight with the city an example of “Minocracy” – minority rule over the majority. How much of the backlash toward your story do you think is motivated by race? Put another way – if your name was Ian Cromwell and you looked like Justin Trottier, how much more/less abuse do you think you’d be getting right now?

 

The abusive messages were mostly comments on Web sites with articles about this case. I also received some threatening and insulting phone calls and email messages. In a constitutional democracy, we need to protect the rights of the minority from the misdirected will of the majority. I think the backlash is mostly from conservatives who believe in a Christian theocracy and want agents of the state to abuse their government offices for Christian indoctrination of non-Christians. I think my race influences the choice of the insult, but doesn’t motivate the backlash. If I had a Christian name and were white, I think I would be getting almost as much abuse, but the insults wouldn’t be directed at my race or ethnicity; there would be other kinds of insults. However, I might be wrong about that. Much of the backlash could be motivated by race because there have been other cases where Caucasians have stood up against religious discrimination and bigotry and didn’t receive as much backlash. I have no way of knowing what motivates bigots.

 

6. Not all of your detractors have been theists. You’ve faced a lot of criticism from other atheists as well.

 

The detractors are ignorant about a lot of facts, don’t know the discrimination and bigotry history of Don Atchison and Randy Donauer, don’t believe in standing up for civil rights, and don’t understand what’s really at stake here. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is poison. Some of my opponents have said that I should have gone to the mayor privately, but I’ve tried talking to the mayor before about police corruption and he hung up on me. Also, the mayor knows using his office for Christian indoctrination is a problem because he has received many complaints about the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, but he doesn’t care. Furthermore, I thought the media reporting this would put more pressure on them to stop violating the separation of religion and government. Atchison and Donauer needed to be reported by the media for their severe abuse of office in trying to impose their religious beliefs on others who don’t share them at a taxpayer funded municipal government event. My opponents should really get informed before they write about an issue. They can talk to me if they want to get informed. You’re getting informed by talking to me and I appreciate that.

 

The first thing many of my opponents don’t understand is Saskatoon politics. Atchison has had an ongoing problem with abusing the mayor’s office to promote Christianity. There is a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. This is a privately funded Christian event organized by Donauer and others. However, with this event being called “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast,” Atchison is using his office to promote Christianity. Atchison has received many complaints about this including from the Centre for Inquiry, but he doesn’t care and he continues violating the separation of religion and government. Donauer knows about these complaints because he helps organize the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, but he doesn’t care and he continues violating the separation of religion and government too.

 

Many of my opponents have claimed that I should have talked to Atchison and Donauer. I’ve sent Atchison and Donauer about a dozen email messages, which are available to the public at http://atchison-discrimination.blogspot.ca and which have been copied to Saskatoon City Council. Atchison and Donauer haven’t responded to any of my email messages. My phone number was at the end of my email messages. Atchison and Donauer haven’t bothered phoning me.

 

I tried speaking to Atchison on the phone once when he was a city councillor about the issue of police corruption. Atchison unprofessionally and rudely hung up on me when I tried calling him that time, so now I’m sending him email instead. Also, I want there to be a record of what was said, so I’m using email instead.

 

Justin Trottier from the Centre for Inquiry, which is working with me on this case, left phone messages for Atchison and Donauer. Atchison and Donauer never called Trottier back too. Atchison and Donauer obviously have no interest in discussing this issue.

 

My demands are not something that can be negotiated through dialog with Atchison and Donauer. I’m unwilling to compromise on public prayer recitations being eliminated from official city events because this is an extremely discriminatory and bigoted practice. A “universal” prayer discriminates against agnostics and atheists. Atchison has indicated that he wants this matter settled by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

 

My first email message to Atchison and Donauer was copied to various media outlets because Atchison and Donauer needed to be exposed by the media for imposing their particular religious beliefs on others who don’t share them at a taxpayer funded municipal government events. This is a severe abuse of office that was rightly exposed by media. Furthermore, I knew there would be much greater pressure on Don Atchison and Randy Donauer to stop imposing their religious beliefs on others at taxpayer funded municipal government events if this story was reported to the public by the media. If Don Atchison and Randy Donauer had agreed to stop this discriminatory and bigoted practice and had apologized then, the news story would have ended there, but they stubbornly resisted.

 

The media only covers an event right after it happens. If I hadn’t gone to the media about the Christian prayer at the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet right after it happened, the media would never have covered it.

 

My opponents don’t understand what a religious bigots Atchison and Donauer are. I’ll tell you how I know they’re religious bigots.

 

When Brent Loucks of News Talk 650 CKOM asked Atchison on air on April 24, 2012 whether he’s going to stop having public Christian prayers at municipal government events in response to my complaint, Atchison started talking about how this city was supposedly founded on Christianity by a Christian priest named John Lake (you can hear this starting at 3:30 of http://www.ckom.com/sites/default/files/Mayor_Atchison_Apr24.mp3) How is this relevant at all? How is it relevant to whether there should be public Christian prayers recited at official city events in 2012 that the city was founded by a Christian priest? In 2012, Saskatoon is an extremely diverse city with people from numerous religions. Why would Atchison say this unless he’s trying to imply that Saskatoon should be a Christian city today? Saskatoon is not a Christian city today. It is supposed to be and is advertised as a secular multicultural city in a secular multicultural country where all citizens are supposed to be treated equally. Let’s have what is advertised. Atchison is clearly implying that he thinks Saskatoon was founded as a Christian city and therefore should still be a Christian city today. This is extremely discriminatory and bigoted. Atchison is a religious bigot.

 

Donauer has suggested that people against him trying to lead a diverse audience in a Christian prayer at a municipal government event are against freedom and tolerance. Essentially he’s saying he should have the freedom to abuse his government office to impose his religious beliefs on others who don’t share them. Donauer is a religious bigot.

 

A lot of my opponents don’t understand that Canadian law and legal precedents do support freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and separation of religion and government. It’s my position and the position of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that freedom of conscience in section 2a of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes freedom from religion, that the Charter forbids attempts to coerce, limit, or otherwise influence the choice of religious observance, and that section 27 of the Charter forbids conferring special privileges or benefits on any particular religion. Separation of religion and government means government can’t interfere with freedom to practice religion, but also means government can’t promote any religion. This is to protect people of all religions including Christians. Separation of religion and government is a fundamental aspect of freedom of religion. There is significant case law to back these positions.

 

Many of my opponents think this is a Christian country. That’s ridiculous. This is a secular multicultural country, not a Christian country. There is nothing in Canadian law saying that this is a Christian country. There is no state religion to some zealots’ chagrin.

 

I didn’t serve in the Cdn. Army Reserve Infantry to defend religious bigotry. It’s hypocritical for the Canadian Armed Forces to be fighting for religious freedom in places like Afghanistan when there isn’t even full religious freedom in Canada.

 

Many of my opponents don’t understand that my civil rights complaint is to get a judgment that has the effect of permanently stopping public prayers at all official civic events throughout the province of Saskatchewan. And my civil rights complaint is to get a judgment that has persuasive value in other provinces too.

 

Many of my opponents claim that by fighting against prayers at civic events, I’m forcing atheism on them. I’m not forcing atheism on anyone. Secularism is separating government from religion. Atheism is not believing in religion or a God. Secularism is not atheism. Lack of a public prayer recitation isn’t atheism. Lack of a public prayer recitation is secularism. People are free to pray on their own and I encourage them to do so if they want to do that. They’re not free to abuse their government offices to try to lead people in a public Christian prayer at a taxpayer funded municipal government event.

 

A Christian prayer recitation at a civic event is analogous to going to a restaurant where there is only one menu option and the restauranteur force feeds with that single menu option. Secularism is analogous to going to a restaurant and being able to eat whatever you want. The former is suitable for some people. The latter is suitable for all people. My opponents are fighting for some people. I’m fighting for all people.

 

My civil rights complaint has nothing to do with atheism. I’m not just fighting for the civil rights of atheists. I’m fighting for the civil rights everyone including Christians. I’m fighting for the civil rights of Christians because most Christians wouldn’t want a politician from a minority religion imposing his beliefs on them and many Christians don’t believe in using the government to impose their religious beliefs on others who don’t share them. People should be able to pray to their own version of the divine or just go ahead and dine.

 

This is an issue that divides people not based on whether they’re Christians or non-Christians. This is an issue that divides people based on whether they’re conservatives or progressives. This is clearly a partisan issue. Almost all of my opponents are conservatives. Almost all of my supporters are progressives. Non-Christians who oppose me are mostly conservatives. Christians who support me are mostly progressives. Non-Christians who oppose me are also minions to the Christian majority. The left is right and the right is wrong.

 

When someone fights for important progressive causes, the conservatives severely criticize him and the progressives greatly respect him. When someone fights for important regressive causes, the conservatives greatly respect her and the progressives severely criticize her. That’s the nature of politics and political activism. You can’t fight for progressive change or regressive change unless you’re willing to stand up to the backlash.

 

It’s the rebels, the troublemakers, and the innovators who see things differently that push the human race forward. The great freedom fighters of the past also had many opponents. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Louis Riel had many opponents, but they kept on fighting. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have many opponents, but they keep on fighting. I don’t claim to be in the league of these great freedom fightesr, but I’m driven by the example they set to keep on fighting against overwhelming odds.

 

Senator Edward M. Kennedy said, “Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.”

 

Most people who have criticized my approach have absolutely no experience in fighting for civil rights, so they’re in no position to criticize me. Their criticism of my approach is extremely naïve and uninformed. I think many of these people would criticize the approach of great freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King, but they have absolutely no credibility in doing so. I am highly experienced in fighting for civil rights, so I believe I know what I’m doing. I’ve never received much media attention in the past, but now I’ve learned how to work with the media for public reporting of civil rights abuses.

 

I seek a court judgment that will protect the right to religious liberty for all including Christians by banning public prayer recitations at all civic events not just at Volunteer Appreciation Banquets in Saskatoon, but at all civic events throughout Saskatchewan. That’s what is at stake here. The great advances in civil rights came not through changes in attitude, but through progressive legislation and court judgments.

 

To get along, one has to go along. To move progressive public policy ahead, one has to go head to head. If someone doesn’t have the guts to stand up and fight, he should get out of the way and not try to tear down those who do have the guts to stand up and fight.

 

Some of my opponents have claimed that I’m looking for money. I’m absolutely not looking for any money. This case is not at all about making money for me. If monetary damages are awarded, I’ll donate them to charity. That being said, I will sue any blogger who engages in libel or slander about me because I will not tolerate defamatory lies about me.

 

How do you respond to critics who think that your complaint is frivolous, and/or that it makes atheists look silly when there are more important things to fight?

 

It’s always better to vigorously stand up for what’s right than passively sit down for what’s wrong.

 

Some people don’t understand what’s at stake here. This isn’t just about a Christian prayer recitation at one civic event. This isn’t just about a Christian prayer recitation at Volunteer Appreciation Banquets in Saskatoon. This isn’t just about Christian prayer recitations at civic events in Saskatoon. This is about getting a court judgment that has the effect of ending all prayer recitations at all civic events throughout Saskatchewan. And this is about getting a court judgment that also has persuasive value in other provinces.

 

My civil rights complaint is to protect the rights of the minority from the misdirected will of the majority, to protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion including freedom from religion, to enforce the separation of religion and government, to protect against religious bigots who would abuse their government offices to impose religion or spirituality on others who don’t share these beliefs, to protect against government giving primacy of one religion over all other religions, and to protect against religious bigots who would abuse their government offices to impose their particular religious beliefs on others who don’t share them.

 

The Centre for Inquiry, the Canadian Secular Alliance, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association wouldn’t have volunteered their help if they didn’t think this was an important issue to fight.

 

Most of the people who claim that there are more important things for which to fight aren’t fighting for anything. If they think there are more important issues to fight for, why aren’t they doing so?

 

The Centre for Inquiry, the Canadian Secular Alliance, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and I are willing to put our time, money, and resources into fighting this case. It’s up to us to decide what’s important to fight.

 

The use of their government offices to promote Christianity isn’t a one-time occurrence for Atchison and Donauer. This is an ongoing problem with them, as I’ve described above.

 

If some people think my civil rights complaint is petty, isn’t it infinitely more petty that Atchison and Donauer won’t apologize and won’t agree to not violate the separation of religion and government again? It’s my opposition that is being petty.

 

If this issue is petty, then why are there so many threatening, racist, bigoted, intolerant, profane, and nasty messages directed at me? Why are Christians phoning me, yelling at me, and trying to intimidate me?

 

I wouldn’t be interviewed by you if this issue wasn’t important. I wouldn’t have received the massive media coverage that I have if this issue wasn’t important.

 

Lastly, I wanted to start a national debate on this issue and that’s what exactly what I’ve done.

 

7. Your decision to go to the Human Rights Commission has also raised a few eyebrows. How do you respond to those who say that involving the Human Rights Commission is an overreaction? Is there any truth to the statement that your complaint exposes the fact that HRCs are nothing more than a place for people to whine about hurt feelings?

 

Only the threat of a human rights complaint got the attention of Don Atchison, Randy Donauer, and the media.

 

Civil rights and civil liberties should be the central governing principle of a free country. Nothing is more important than civil rights and civil liberties. The seed of liberty grows peace and prosperity.

 

The greatest thing that Canada has going for it over many other countries is its human rights commissions where any citizen whose civil rights or civil liberties have been violated can seek redress without the prohibitive expense of going to the courts.

 

This has nothing to do with hurt feelings; this has to do with people abusing their government offices to impose their religious beliefs on others who don’t share them

 

When Atchison and Donauer have a Christian prayer at a municipal government event, it sends the message that there is a priority given to Christian values, it sends the message that Christians are more valued or welcome than others while marginalizing others, it sends the message that only Christians can serve on City Council because a non-Christian won’t have a Christian prayer, and it forces those who object to the prayer to make the choice of having to sit through the prayer against their religion, conscience, or will or face embarrassment from leaving the room.

 

The people who say my civil rights complaint is overreacting are trapped in a cesspool of complacency whereas I’m fighting for religious liberty for all. Their complacency induces sleep, but I believe there are solemn promises of liberty to keep, resulting challenges to meet, towering obstacles to beat, and a long way to go before we sleep, and a long way to go before we sleep.

 

8. Many atheist writers, myself included, have written derisively about Christians claiming religious ‘persecution’ for slight offenses, when there is real legitimate persecution of Christians happening in the world. Is your situation just the flip side of the same coin? If not, why not?

 

Every citizen of the free world has a duty to stand up to defend and advance the frontiers of freedom. I don’t shirk that responsibility; I embrace it. That’s why I served as an infantry officer and platoon commander understudy in the Cdn. Army Reserve. That’s why I’ve fought for civil rights on many occasions. I don’t cower in fearfulness. I stand up for fairness.

 

People need to care about more than their own lives. People can’t be afraid to defend our civil rights and civil liberties. People can’t cower in fearfulness. They need to stand up for fairness.

 

9. CFI Canada has come to your defence. How have they been helping? What difference has that made to you personally?

 

The support of Centre for Inquiry shows how important my complaint is. The overwhelming support that I’ve received from CFI and its members has made me better understand that I’m not just fighting for me. I’m fighting for a lot of people and they greatly appreciate that I’m taking this on for all of them and taking the heat for all of them. I received some help from Justin Trottier, national communications director for CFI Canada, and Kendra Getty, chair of CFI Saskatchewan. Justin Trottier has appeared on the Roy Green Show twice with me. I have a lot of new friends from CFI now. Some of my supporters have told me they consider me a hero and I’m honored that they think that. I’m also supported by the Canadian Secular Alliance. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association agrees that civic events must be secular and is writing a legal letter arguing for this.

 

10. My understanding of Saskatoon is that it is a city with a lot of tension, not only between a very overtly religious majority and a non-religious minority, but racial tension as well. I imagine that this isn’t the first time you’ve had to deal with overt displays of religiosity and racist backlash. Is this an isolated complaint about a prayer, or are you trying to raise aware of the problem in your city in general?

 

I don’t think Saskatoon is worse in terms of racism and religious bigotry than other parts of Canada. However, the religious bigotry of Don Atchison and Randy Donauer has made Saskatoon look an archaic city of religious intolerance.

Numerous conservative Christian supporters of Atchison and Donauer have threatened me, told me to go back where I came from (even though I came from here), insulted my first name, insulted my race, insulted my ethnicity, insulted my atheist belief, etc. That just shows me that there’s much more racism and religious bigotry than I ever realized in Canada and makes me infinitely more determined to fight against discrimination and bigotry. Canadians like to believe that their country is free of racism and bigotry, but the racist and bigoted backlash against me proves that isn’t true. The backlash shows that Canada is an extremely racist and bigoted country. They tried to intimidate me out of filing a civil rights complaint, but instead they made me infinitely more determined to file it and I did.

11. You’ve made it clear that you’re looking for an apology from the mayor and a statement that prayer will no longer be part of the city council’s way of doing things. If he held a press conference tomorrow and announced that he was going to do exactly that, would you accept it and move on?

My only demands are the following:

1. An apology from Don Atchison to me and to anyone else who was offended for having a public Christian prayer at the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet.

2. An apology from Randy Donauer to me and to anyone else who was offended for saying a public Christian prayer at the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet.

3. A guarantee from Atchison that he will not violate the separation of religion and government again. This includes not violating the separation of religion and government with the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. The name of this event should be changed, so it doesn’t use the office of mayor to promote prayer or Christian prayer. It could be called “Don Atchison’s Prayer Breakfast.”

4. A guarantee from Donauer that he will not violate the separation of religion and government again.

The only way this matter can be resolved is by them meeting these demands. If they agree to these demands tomorrow, the case will be resolved tomorrow.

12. Looking back on your experience since the volunteer dinner, is there anything you wish you had done differently?

My supporters think I’ve made the right decisions at every stage in this case and I believe I have too. I think I would have been more aggressive in contacting more media outlets earlier about this civil rights abuse by Don Atchison and Randy Donauer to get the message of religious liberty out even further and stir up even more of a national debate on this issue.

13. What advice would you give to other atheists (or even non-Christian theists) faced with the same situation you faced?

It’s better to always vigorously stand up for what’s right than passively sit down for what’s wrong. People should stand up and fight when they see an abuse of civil rights. Write a civil rights complaint, send it to the opposing party and media, and take it to the human rights commission if they don’t get a satisfactory remedy from the opposing party. Then the state won’t be governed with bigotry. The state will be governed with liberty.

Most people see things as they are or even hear of things that aren’t—then simply accept them as wrong or right. We need to see things as they should be and even dream of things that could be—then strive to bring them to light.

 

14. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

This is not a Christian country and it’s not a Christian city. This is a secular multicultural country and secular multicultural city. We cannot have a tyranny of the majority. In a constitutional democracy, we need to protect the rights of the minority from the misdirected will of the majority.

People can refer to http://atchison-discrimination.blogspot.ca for my emails to Don Atchison, Randy Donauer, and City Council, my civil rights complaint against Atchison, Donauer, and the City of Saskatoon, and my media coverage for this complaint against Atchison and Donauer for abusing their government offices to try to impose their religious beliefs on others who don’t share them.

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  1. 1
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I haven’t even read the whole interview, but I’ve changed my mind. Given this:

    Atchison has received many complaints about this including from the Centre for Inquiry, but he doesn’t care and he continues violating the separation of religion and government.

    I took it for granted that Hemant’s account was as accurate as he usually is on Canadian stories–missing nuances but generally getting the gist. I thought that the mayor, on first being informed that he was violating the Charter on religious discrimination (more accurate a phrasing than “separation of church and state” which is not guaranteed by the Charter or HRC), offered to open it (some unnamed civil function) up to other religions and secular philosophies to make opening statements in the future. That actually, would be allowable under the Charter and perfectly fine.

    This interview paints an entirely different picture. I say, onward Mr. Solo! I’m totally behind you.*

    *If they want to have an official “prayer breakfast” that also includes a First Nations prayer, a Sikh prayer, a Hindu prayer, a Muslim prayer, a Jewish prayer, a Wiccan prayer complete with circle casting, an accommodationist Humanist “invocation,” and a Gnu atheist “pox on all your houses” I’d say let ‘em.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    You realize that with all of the different religious traditions possible, if they actually executed that plan the whole thing would be spent praying. Religion has no place in government business. It’s entirely unnecessary.

  3. 3
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I do realise that the whole time would be spent making opening remarks if they were to go that route. It’s rather amusing to consider, no? Alternatively, each civil function could open with some different cultural opening statement or prayer. Let some Druids get in there and pray to a tree spirit on Tuesday next. I’m being a little sarcastic with my suggestion because I hardly think these clowns would actually accept Christianity on a level playing field along with aboriginal religion or Chinese ancestor worship.

    But in truth, I kind of lean toward the multicultural approach rather than the secular approach to these things. I think it has the benefit of exposing people to a diversity of different cultural traditions and gives people from all different backgrounds a feeling of belonging to the civic power. If the city council is “Hindu for a day,” well that gives the impression that being from an Indian background is just as Canadian as being Christian. Being an atheist or humanist doesn’t make you less a Saskatoonian. You can tell that because every 10th council meeting, an atheist gets up and says you can be a good Saskatoonian citizen and believe no gods exist.

  4. 4
    Mark

    What an incredibly thoughtful, eloquent individual. I’m damn proud to see people like him on the front lines, fighting for all of us.

    And thank you, Crommunist, for letting us get to know a little about him – much better than what any news article will ever tell.

  5. 5
    Cunning Pam

    Ian, thank you for doing this. It certainly brings a lot more to light, and I hope that people who thought they were getting the whole story from Hemant Mehta get to come to your blog as well and read what you and Mr. Solo have written. He’s every bit as deserving of accolade as Jessica Ahlquist, IMO.

  6. 6
    Eamon Knight

    The reaction to Mr. Solo supports a thesis of mine: that almost always, Christian prayers presented at ostensibly non-religious public functions are not acts of piety; they are acts of tribalism, political statements to the effect that *we* are in charge here and the rest of you exist on our sufferance.

    Three cheers for Ashu Solo!

  7. 7
    Icaarus

    This has changed my opinion of the situation both for good and for bad

    Pro) He has now changed my mind, yes he has a valid charter complaint

    Con) I now think that he is a fool. His academic credentials should be more than enough to give him the insight that Saskatoon is not all of Canada. By implying the overt and extreme intolerance and bigotry represented in Saskatoon is common of all of Canada speaks to HIS ignorance, whether by choice, or by inability. Yes I am making a statement about him. Here is the thing. We don’t have separation of church and state, we can’t while the Queen is the head of state. If he did as he said, go through school here, he should have learned that. Also the Saskatchewan Act, like the Alberta Act, legally allows for the school to ignore the personal freedom of and from religion, from any minor in the public education system. Or in other words the school can and will ram Christianity down your throat, and as long as there is no prayer the school is following the law. So his lumping in legal and illegal acts together as one speaks how ill informed he is. Someone with his credentials should be equipped to inform themselves. So his lack of knowledge (ignorance) is by choice, and thus he is a fool.

  8. 8
    Killing Machine

    Amir Khan is spouting his ignorance again for the world to see as Icaarus. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. The human rights commission banned school prayer in Sask. The racist and bigoted comments directed at Solo came mostly from Toronto and from all across Canada. Amir Khan is an idiot who opens his mouth before having any facts.

  9. 9
    Icaarus

    I am not “Amir Khan”

    I live in Saskatoon

    I have been in the same room with Ashu, once.

    Read Again
    “Or in other words the school can and will ram Christianity down your throat, and as long as there is no prayer the school is following the law” There are many ways to indoctrinate without using prayer. Yes they can sadly be interpreted as legal. AM I HAPPY ABOUT IT? NO!!!

    My biggest gripe. The main reason I cannot support Solo

    Solo: “I don’t think Saskatoon is worse in terms of racism and religious bigotry than other parts of Canada.”

    Saskatoon is far more bigoted than anywhere else in Canada I have ever lived. Implying the level of bigotry of Saskatoon is even the average of Canada is wrong. Vancouver and Montreal speak to that quite successfully.

    He is a fool because he:
    1) equates the bigotry of a horrible city with that of the whole country
    2) believes wrongly that personal freedom of religion is the same as separation of church and state
    3) picked the wrong battle. There are far worse situations than one opening prayer to one volunteer dinner. Not saying he’s not in the right, just saying there are far better situations to make a stand. If he was serious about complaining he would have filed a charter violation against a portfolio of acts, not just one.

  10. 10
    Killing Machine

    Where the hell have you been in the same room as Solo? You’re a liar. Separation of religion and government is an important aspect of religious freedom, you ignoramus. One can’t make a “charter violation against a portfolio of acts,” you ignoramus. Nobody can legally do that and he has no standing to do that. Learn what you’re talking about before you open your trap. If there are more important battles, why aren’t you fighting them? Cuz you’re a wimp who can only complain about others who are fighting for freedom.

  11. 11
    Icaarus

    Why aren’t I fighting them – I am

    I have done enough for personal freedom to not have to justify myself to you.

    As for calling me a liar. Well my anonymity on the internet is to protect those that I know that are not out. Something I have had to do considering the consequences of being out in Saskatoon. (I am out as both gay and irreligious) So no I will not tell you when I was in the same room with Solo. BUT I AM NO LIAR. The only reason I provided it as evidence was to show just how bad Saskatoon is in general. The politicians do reflect the average citizen of the area.

    “Separation of religion and government is an important aspect of religious freedom,” It is, but it is not something that we currently enjoy. You should really look into how many cases of religious bias there are in our laws before you start calling me an ignoramus.

    And why the hell are you attacking me so severely anyways. The first thing I admitted was that he has a valid complaint. I just think he is a fool for 1) picking this fight over the dozens of others that are more egregious and equally valid, and 2) Saying that he is a fool for equating Saskatoon’s extreme bigotry with that of the rest of the country.

  12. 12
    julian

    Solo: “I don’t think Saskatoon is worse in terms of racism and religious bigotry than other parts of Canada.”

    That’s it? That’s why you’re calling Solo a fool and standing with those calling much worse? Because after he was demonized by the people who should have had his back, after being subjected to racism from across the country he literally fought to defend, after putting himself online the line for a worthy cause with no support in sight he made an estimation of your country’s progressive views you didn’t like?!

    Fuck you. You’re beneath the dirt on my feet.

  13. 13
    CFI member

    Here Icaarus is anonymously insulting Solo and calling him despicable names while being too cowardly to provide his/her own name, so he can be insulted back. What a pathetic worthless waste of skin Icaarus is. Icaarus, you’re a disgrace to humanity. You whine like a baby over the most trivial things. GO TO HELL WHERE YOU BELONG, ICAARUS.

    CFI wouldn’t be supporting him if this wasn’t a really important case.

    If you were in the same room as a hero like Solo, that must have been the greatest honor in your life. I’m a CFI member who knows him and the only place you could have been in the same room as him is at the CFI euthanasia debate or at one of his city committee meetings, so you’re either a CFI member or on his city committee or a liar. You’re probably a liar. Anyway, who the hell cares if you were supposedly in the same room as him? That isn’t even relevant to anything.

    I strongly agree with Julian who says the following:

    “That’s it? That’s why you’re calling Solo a fool and standing with those calling much worse? Because after he was demonized by the people who should have had his back, after being subjected to racism from across the country he literally fought to defend, after putting himself online the line for a worthy cause with no support in sight he made an estimation of your country’s progressive views you didn’t like?!

    Fuck you. You’re beneath the dirt on my feet.”

    STOP WASTING OUR TIME WITH YOUR INANE COMMENTS.

    GO TO HELL WHERE YOU BELONG, ICAARUS.

  14. 14
    Crommunist

    Oh good. I was worried this wasn’t going to turn into a ridiculous pissing contest. Glad to see my fears were in vain.

  15. 15
    Icaarus

    Crommunist, my apologies for not properly editing my comments, had they been more terse I might not have started such ridiculousness. While I stand beside everything I said, in respect to you, and the rest of FtB, I could have said it better here.

  16. 16
    Icaarus

    I should probably leave this be, but for the sake of completeness, it should read gay friendly.

  17. 17
    Crommunist

    I dislike sock puppets, Ashu. If you have a problem, don’t use my blog to solve it.

    Also you don’t fucking ‘out’ people on the internet. That’s the same coward bully bullshit that made me stop responding to your emails.

  18. 18
    Junior

    Solo keeps saying “what’s right…”.

    Who appointed you the be-all for determining what’s right?

  19. 19
    Asksask

    Unless I’m mistaken I believe the charter of rights starts “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. I for one don’t mind if a prayer is said in a public event, i just let it go as a gesture of blessing. Maybe we should just create a general pre-meal blessing that is non-religion bias. For instance “We bless these food in which we consume, may we all find good fortune in the future” or something to that line. I apologize for this late posting but I was just doing my research to find out more about Mr.Solo to try to understand why he would have issues with “Merry Christmas” displayed on city buses, when I came upon this. I can spend days responding to his points, but I won’t. Just wanted to say the we do have separation of church and state to certain extent, but I find that Canadian culture have been influence by Christian beliefs. These influences had occurred over centuries. As long as no one is holding a gun to my head and telling me what to believe in, I don’t see prayers and wishing someone a Merry Christmas a issue. I am open to listen to what you believe it, but it is my choice if I want to believe too.

  20. 20
    Anon Atheist

    As an atheist this makes me cringe. Solo needs to stop being such a butthurt douchebag.

  21. 21
    Eamon Knight

    @19: Unless I’m mistaken I believe the charter of rights starts “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

    …a phrase which, as some of us are old enough to remember, was inserted at the last minute after much noise was made by various religious groups. It’s a load of pious nonsense that adds nothing substantive to the Charter or the rights outlined therein, but gives sanctimonious fools an excuse to denigrate those who eschew their superstitions.

    I have no idea what Mr. Solo thinks about “Merry Christmas” though I personally don’t give a damn* what conventional seasonal pleasantry someone greets me with. But sect-specific prayers at council meetings send a message: we (usually: Christians) own this place, and the rest of you exist on our sufferance. They have no place in secular governance.

    *
    (When I put this link inline, Preview shows it as screwing everything up, so here it is)

  22. 22
    Shiney Penny

    Forcing your atheist views on me is no different than me forcing my views on you, religious or cultural. The tradition in this country has always been to have a prayer, usually a Christian prayer, at the start of most events. We also sing God Save the Queen, and God keep our land, glorious and free. If you want to force Canadians to change their tranditions then say so, but stop forcing your views on me.

  23. 23
    Eamon Knight

    @22: It is not “an atheist view” to want an end to official Christian prayers at council meetings, it is a *secularist* view; learn the difference. It is in the interests not just of atheists, but of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and anyone else who isn’t a Christian. Your appeal to “tradition” is just an admission of what I said above — that you claim to own the place and the rest of us can go suck it. Do you know, for example, that within living memory, it was the practice to limit (or even outright forbid) the number of Jews admitted to universities in this country? To have racially segregated cinema seating? Should we have kept *those* traditions? So yes, dammit: I do want Canadians (of which I am one, by right of natural birth) to change their traditions because many of those traditions are *stupid*, even *evil*.

  24. 24
    eachtheirown

    Us religious Canadians have already changed many traditions for the non believers. There should be some give and take. Everything religious has been taken out of schools, malls can’t play Christmas music in free of upsetting people and yet other religions think we should go along with their religious beliefs.
    Canada should follow the way of Australia.

  25. 25
    Crommunist

    Us religious Canadians have already changed many traditions for the non believers

    Ah yes, the time-honoured tradition of music in malls, dating all the way back to the first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men bought the baby Jesus an Orange Julius.

    Everything religious has been taken out of schools because of the goddamn Charter. And malls do play Christmas music. All the damn time! And they’re covered in Christmas decorations as early as November.

    Why does religion give you a license to be an idiot?

  26. 26
    Eamon Knight

    malls can’t play Christmas music in free of upsetting people

    Do they really? Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it, though I wouldn’t know as I avoid malls like the plague this time of year. Actually, I would much prefer decent orchestral or even choral arrangements of traditional carols, to ditties like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which were utter schlock even before they were butchered for the retail environment. So yeah, I’m plenty offended by “Christmas music” in stores for reasons having nothing to do with religion. In fact, my wife and I even wrote some of our own in honour of it:

    “Deck the malls with plastic reindeer, falalalalalalalala,
    Christmas can be such a pain, dear, falala….
    Muzak blaring from mall speakers, falalala….
    Makes December even bleaker, falalalalalala…”

  27. 27
    Tiger

    Diversity for me, but not for thee. Freedom of expression for me but no for thee. Freedom of religion for me, but not for thee.

    I’m offended, I’m offended, I’m offended. There is no human right not to be offended. The rights mentioned above are fundamental rights. He is responsible for his own “feelings” not others. Just more political correctness tyranny. Reminds me of the Human Rights major at that university he destroyed the Free Speech wall here in Canada because he “felt” it contained speech that offended him. These people live in a bubble. They remind me of those clear the room of “negative” energy before they enter it, believing they have a right to live in a negative energy free world-they’re fundamentalists and fanatics at best. They love tyranny.

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. Lewis

  28. 28
    Crommunist

    Thank you for that wordy, and yet ultimately content-free contribution to an article that is now over a year old.

  1. 29
    Context for Ward 5. « the other Hilary

    [...] update: here is an interview with Ashu Solo. I must admit, he does come across much better here, and I’m sorry I haven’t done a [...]

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