I have, in the past, erroneously made the point that Canada’s Charter does not explicitly separate church and state. I thought it was cute and curious that a country like Canada, with a very secular population (particularly compared to the United States), has no need to enshrine and codify the explicit segregation between religious matters and governmental ones. Of course, as with so many things that I just make up off the top of my head, it turns out that I am wrong. Section twenty-seven of the Charter, guaranteeing a right to multiculturalism, has been interpreted by the courts as expressly forbidding government recognition of one religious tradition over others.
Someone should probably tell the mayor of Saskatoon that:
An Ontario-based atheist group has jumped into a controversy about prayers at official City of Saskatoon events. The Centre for Inquiry says it supports a Saskatoon man who was offended after city councillor Randy Donauer said a Christian blessing before a meal at a City of Saskatoon volunteer appreciation night.
Ashu Solo, a volunteer who was at the event earlier this month, says he will file a complaint Tuesday with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. “I was extremely offended by the inclusion of a Christian prayer, which makes non-Christians feel like second-class citizens,” Solo said Monday in a news release.
(Bonus fun: the ‘man on the street’ comments in this article are absolutely precious)
Now this seems like a pretty clear-cut violation of the law. The way this story is written makes it look as though Mr. Solo ran straight to the Human Rights Commission because his feelings were hurt. The truth is a bit less dramatic:
The inclusion of a Christian prayer at a municipal government event violates the separation of religion and government, Solo wrote in a lengthy email to Mayor Don Atchison, which he later distributed to the rest of council.
Solo also takes issue with a prayer that “clearly gives primacy to one religion over all other religions” at a municipal event paid for with Saskatoon taxpayer money. “This is not a Christian country or a Christian city. It is a secular multicultural country and secular multicultural city with people from numerous religions as well as spiritual people, agnostics and atheists,” Solo said.
So a public official breaks the law, a citizen writes a letter, the letter is ignored so the citizen goes to the larger council. The violation of the law is still ignored, so the citizen takes the next legal step, which is to involve the Human Rights Commission (this is precisely why they exist). Seems pretty reasonable, no?
Well not if you’re Hemant Mehta, apparently:
That’s all that is needed. Not an accusation of bigotry and discrimination. Not a threat of a human rights violation. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
Not everyone understands the idea of Christian privilege. They don’t always realize that a Christian blessing may not sound welcoming for non-Christians. It’s our job to make them aware of it, calmly if possible, and aggressively so only if the action warrants it. Solo’s reaction isn’t helping the situation here.
Hemant starts this piece by admitting that he doesn’t know much about the details of the case, but then wastes little time in “advising” Mr. Solo about what he should have done to not make the rest of the atheist community look bad. He does so with a heaping helping of condescension and tone-trolling nonsense. As with much of Hemant’s stuff, my reaction to this is: if that’s “friendly” atheism, give me unfriendly every time. I doubt Hemant would put up with that kind of lacklustre argumentation if Mr. Solo had been Jessica Ahlquist, and yet Hemant shows little compunction in labeling this similar reaction to an illegal action as an ‘overreaction’.
Hemant’s nincompoopery aside, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict what happened next. Once the story hit the national media, Mr. Solo (a domestically-born Canadian who served in the Armed Forces Reserve) was subjected to racist and anti-immigrant abuse:
“I still cannot believe the audacity of this immigrant. Making an affirmation such as his denotes not only a crass lack of knowledge related to our Canadian history, but also a deep disrespect for everyone.”
“Unfortunately, the fact of being born in Canada to immigrant parents does not atuomatically qualify someone as Canadian. To be Canadian means more than a passport or a birth certificate and Solo is a living proof of it. He should probably visit his parents’ country and meditate on the great country Canada is and thank Christians for building a country like this.”
“Hes upset about a christian prayer. Well Im upset every day I go outside and see people who dress in ethnic clothes, who do not converse in my language which is english and is the language of canada, who wear headgear, who are rude, who take our jobs away, who use our welfare system, who commit crimes.”
I am glad that the Centre for Inquiry stepped up and actually helped Mr. Solo out with his complaint. If I had to be subjected to that kind of asshattery, from people who would deny not only my rights as a citizen but also my patriotism as someone who has served in the military, I’d be livid. If I had to deal with that and having prominent atheists (particularly pro-activist atheists) shitting all over me for speaking up, I’d be apoplectic. Especially when the actions I was taking were for the explicit benefit of the atheist community.
The thing that particularly irks me about Hemant’s brainless critique is that he didn’t even bother to do the minimum amount of research. He straight-out admits that he doesn’t know crucial details about the prayer, about the people involved, about the reaction of other people in the room, about whether this was a glitch or a regular violation. And then he immediately pivots and decides that he does know all of those things, and that his “friendly” approach is the superior one that doesn’t “embarrass” atheists.
Well, because I am not above doing the bare minimum amount of work required to understand something before slamming it, I actually contacted Mr. Solo and asked him about the prayer, the case, and the backlash. I will feature a condensed version of his response this afternoon.
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