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Christian zealots really can’t identify with anyone else

The Canadian government is firing all their non-Christian prison chaplains. Not all their chaplains, which would be a move that would be both smart and fair, but just the ones who don’t love Jesus enough.

The federal government is cancelling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons, CBC News has learned.

Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries.

Toews made headlines in September when he ordered the cancellation of a tender issued for a Wiccan priest for federal prisons in B.C.

Toews said he wasn’t convinced part-time chaplains from other religions were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and that he would review the policy.

In an email to CBC News, Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time Christian chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.

"The minister strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners,” the email states. “However, the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths."

I’d like to know how Vic Toews would react if all the Christian chaplains were kicked out of the prisons and all the Jebusites had to turn towards “interfaith” services provided by rabbis and imams. I suspect he’d suddenly see a major problem with such a decision.

One other interesting note: Canada has about 15,000 prisoners, and their religion breaks down like this:

There are nearly 15,000 inmates in federal custody and a large majority of them identify themselves as Christian:

  • 37.5% are Catholic.

  • 19.5% are Protestant.

  • 4.5% are Muslim.

  • 4% First Nations spirituality

  • 2% are Buddhist.

  • less than 1% are Jewish.

  • less than 1% are Sikh.

Hang on, that adds up to less than 70%. What are the other 30%? Polls show that less than 20% of the Canadian population has no religious affiliation (recent polls bring that up closer to 30%). Have we finally found a country where the criminals are as godless as the general population?

Comments

  1. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    “However, the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.”

    Um, ok…. So the government can’t decide which religions get preferential status, therefore it’s decided that Christians get preferential status….

    I just….

    Um….

    blrggghhhh

  2. eric says

    Yeah, just wow. Its Orwellian to justify firing all the non-Christian religious conselors with the justification “the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding.”

  3. ibbica says

    What a Maroon, el papa ateo, I had nearly exactly the same reaction. Nearly choked on my coffee, to boot.

    Dammit, every time we get all comfy poking fun at US politicians and feeling all smug and superior, our Canadian politicians just have to go and do or say something just as dumb. Sigh.

  4. ibbica says

    I should point out here that any Canadians feeling the urge to say something to Mr. Toews can and should send a letter or an email to one of his offices. The addresses are available on his website: http://www.victoews.com

    He’s been saying plenty of… interesting things about how he wants to run Canadian federal prisons. Let’s please make sure he knows the people are watching.

  5. says

    This is transparent bigotry and Christianist favoritism; but in fairness, there could be some sort of resource-limitation factors in play here as well. If they can’t find, or can’t afford, chaplains for every faith represented in their prison population, then some unfairness of this sort becomes inevitable, as (for example) the one Shiite Muslim in a certain facility has to make do with the Sunni chaplain who happened to be the best available option for that facility; or the Buddhist prisoner has to choose between the Catholic and the Hindu chaplains. So instead of trying to accomodate every sect and sub-sect that came through their doors, they simply made the easier unfair arbitrary decision over a lot of harder unfair arbitrary decisions.

    I’m not saying that IS what’s happening here, or that it’s justified; I’m just saying it might be the least worst option.

  6. Beatrice says

    “However, the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.”

    *blink*
    Clearly, no discrimination there.

  7. Beatrice says

    Raging Bee,

    In that case, instead of chaplains, they should provide non-religious counseling.

  8. says

    IIRC there’s a similar problem in the US military: personnel in the field need (or at least really really want) chaplain services, but one can’t necessarily expect to find a nearby chaplain who is a practitioner of his specific faith; so all chaplains, whatever their faith or who sponsored them, are simply expected (in theory at least) to serve all persons of all faiths.

    I guess the best solution here would be to have all chaplains present themselves as “secular” or “unaffiliated” or “generic” — but that probably wouldn’t look good to most people.

  9. triskelethecat says

    Did anyone else notice this:

    Toews said he wasn’t convinced part-time chaplains from other religions were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and that he would review the policy…

    full-time Christian chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.

    So he’s basically fired all the PART-TIME employees and left the full-time ones. And doesn’t anyone wonder why the other chaplains were only part-time?

    Overall, the decision sucks. If you want to save money, why not fire all the FULL-time employees and keep just the part-time ones (fewer benefits, if any – at least here in the USA) – at least, if you must have chaplains. Make them all part-time, no matter what religion.

  10. godskesen says

    Well, PZ, about those prison demographics… I’ve never actually been able to find a credible source for the claim that atheists are wildly under-represented in US prison, much as I would love it to be true. Do you happen to know the source? Recently we’ve seen how atheists often are just as awful as other people with regards to misogyny… so why not crime as well? I, for one, for the time being, have stopped making the claim that atheists are under-represented in prisons because I can’t find any support for it.

  11. ibbica says

    IIRC there’s a similar problem in the US military: personnel in the field need (or at least really really want) chaplain services, but one can’t necessarily expect to find a nearby chaplain who is a practitioner of his specific faith; so all chaplains, whatever their faith or who sponsored them, are simply expected (in theory at least) to serve all persons of all faiths.

    I guess the best solution here would be to have all chaplains present themselves as “secular” or “unaffiliated” or “generic” — but that probably wouldn’t look good to most people.

    Er… they’re not telling “all chaplains… to serve all persons of all faiths”, they’re firing all non-Christian chaplains. That’s an important distinction.

    Plus what triskelethecat said… how you save money by firing part-time workers in favour of full-time employees is beyond me. I don’t think it’s necessarily a conscious conspiracy or anything, so much as someone not really thinking things through thoroughly.

  12. says

    ibbica: because huge numbers of people, including prisoners and their parents, expect such “services” to be available, and, in some cases at least, derive some benefit from them once in awhile.

    As for non-religious counseling, I hope that’s available in any case. But for whatever reason, some people expect religious counseling; and as long as there are churches willing to provide it, and it has some chance of doing some good, then getting rid of chaplains altogether won’t sit well with the population — so we’re still stuck with the potential for this sort of inconsistency and unfairness.

  13. ibbica says

    Raging Bee, I’m not questioning why chaplains are there, that’s something I’m OK with (not happy about, but OK with).

    What I’m questioning is why the federal government is paying people to play a religious role.

    Religious chaplains should be permitted to administer to those in prison, yes. But they should get their paycheque from the community they represent, not the federal coffers.

  14. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    But for whatever reason, some people expect religious counseling; and as long as there are churches willing to provide it, and it has some chance of doing some good, then getting rid of chaplains altogether won’t sit well with the population

    Shouldn’t the churches (mosques, synagogues, etc.) be the ones paying the chaplains?

  15. McC2lhu saw what you did there. says

    /me slowly reaches for the decaying porcupine hoping that someone slaps his hand away…

    Harper’s clown school buddies embarrass my home country, once again, and just a week after a spectacular failure to recognize what century we’re living in by trying to reopen the abortion ‘debate’. Did someone not explain to these fuckwits that MP doesn’t stand for moronic proselytizers?

  16. Dick the Damned says

    Canada has about 15,000 prisoners,…

    I know we Canadians are mostly good folk, but that figure represents about 0.05% of the population. I guess that figure might be for federal penitentiaries?

    The list of religious affiliations also omits some fairly sizeable groups, such as Animists & Hindus.

    I quote from http://www.theprovince.com/life/Ottawa+chopping+minority+faith+chaplains+federal+prisons/7347130/story.html

    According to corrections data, in the last fiscal year, 36 per cent of inmates identified themselves as Catholic, 18 per cent as Protestant, five per cent as Muslim, four per cent as native spiritual, two per cent as Buddhist, one per cent as Jewish and one per cent as Sikh. Twenty percent said they were non-religious, seven per cent said they belonged to “other” religious groups, and six per cent answered “unknown.”

    Does that 20% non-religious include people who believe in “something” (undefined)? If that’s the case, an appallingly low percentage of Canadians are atheists.

  17. says

    Godskesen, I would be pretty unsurprised if atheists were in fact underrepresented in prison–not because atheists are any better than anyone else, but just because atheism is most common among fairly well-off people and the prison population is largely drawn from less-well-off people, due to a whole host of reasons. I don’t know if it’s quite as bad in Canada as it is in the US, but the US prison-industrial complex is basically just a warehousing system for the people we didn’t arse ourselves to educate.

    I definitely would love to see studies, though.

  18. Dick the Damned says

    Sorry, i screwed up there. Haven’t had my coffee yet.

    If less than 20% of prisoners are atheists, rather than just not having a religious affiliation, that figure must be less than the percentage of the Canadian population who are atheists, i would’ve thought.

  19. Dick the Damned says

    Another thing. Atheism is more prevalent in the young, & so is criminal behaviour. So, that would skew the likelihood of prisoners being atheists compared to the general population.

  20. larrylyons says

    Its the Tories, and Vic Toews, he’s a conservative Christian so I’m not surprised. This will be challenged in court I bet, since it does go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  21. Erp says

    In the 2001 census 16.5% of Canadians reported no religion (they dropped the question for 2011 but the percentage had been 12.6% n 1991).

    Prison records can be misleading since for various reasons people may lie (if X get less favorable conditions don’t list yourself as X).

    I would distinguish between two roles for a prison chaplain. One of them is coordinating religious activities at the prison and seeing that prisoners can exercise their religion as far as legally possible. This does require knowing a lot about many different religions and arranging for legitimate ministers (or equivalent) to visit prisoners of their faith. It also requires being able to treat prisoners whether of the chaplain’s faith or not, equally. This role can be paid for by the government. A few years ago a Wisconsin prison, much to the dismay of one legislator, hired a Wiccan priestess as chaplain as she was best qualified to fill that role and, as the warden explained, he wasn’t allowed to discriminate on religious grounds. The other role is to provide religious services for a particular religion to prisoners who desire it. This should probably be volunteer or paid for by the religious community.

  22. randy says

    As a Canadian, I sigh and head desk whenever I see Vic Toews’ name in the newspaper.

    I’d hate to see what you do when Rob Anders opens his mouth, then, Strewth…

  23. sonofrojblake says

    I’d expect atheists to be vanishingly rare in prison.

    I’d expect atheists to be vanishingly rare in any environment where faking being religious made a real and continuous positive difference to your quality of life. And any kind of privileged access to chaplains, places of worship, time out to pray etc. would represent an obvious improvement to prison life compared to life without them.

    What would be telling is how many people who express religion in prison show any evidence of being devout during the seven days immediately after their release? (I’m guessing “vanishingly few”).

  24. gussnarp says

    I seem to recall that Canada is lacking a real constitutional religious freedom provision, is that true? Sad really.

    Obviously what they’re doing is wrong, and there are two obvious solutions that would be more appropriate: provide chaplains of any and all religions or take away all chaplains.

    But if they feel a chaplain is needed, and they’re only going to hire one kind, it seems to me that we’ve finally found a job for those Humanist chaplains. If you need one person to serve all faiths, clearly that person cannot be a Christian, or a member of any one faith. What you need is an atheist who is versed in many different religious traditions, but a believer of none. They should also have real, non-religious counseling training. That person could really help anyone. They could counsel the religious of any stripe and the non-religious alike. They could frame their counseling in any religious tradition. Obviously they could not technically perform certain rites, but if the Christian chaplain is not a Catholic priest, then they can’t perform Catholic rites. The same is just as true for the Christian chaplain performing Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, or any other rites. So yeah, fire all the Christian chaplains and replace them with Humanists. There’s your budget satisfying, religion coddling, but still fair solution.

  25. raven says

    The real solution would be to only have agnostic and atheist chaplains.

    That would be totally non-discriminatory. They think the same of all gods and religions, that they are all equally made up inventions.

    And don’t say they couldn’t do it. How hard is it to play lets pretend and make believe anyway.

  26. says

    I seem to recall that Canada is lacking a real constitutional religious freedom provision, is that true? Sad really.

    No. It’s not true. In fact, it’s the very first freedom listed in the Charter:

    2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

    a) freedom of conscience and religion;

    I doubt this policy will hold up to a challenge either on the grounds of the prisoners’ rights, or on the grounds that the federal government is planning to fire people based on their religion–a contravention of the Canadian Human Rights Code for sure.

  27. hjhornbeck says

    Adding to Ibis3 @30, Canada is a sort of “soft secular” nation. We have explicit protection for religious freedom, but nothing that guarantees the government can’t play favorites. The courts have generally enforced secularism anyway, but not always; non-denomination Christian prayer in our legislatures has survived multiple court challenges, as it was argued that didn’t sufficiently discourage other religions.

    It’s a strange system.

  28. David Marjanović says

    The real solution would be to only have agnostic and atheist chaplains.

    Or, you know, psychologists and psychiatrists.

  29. anteprepro says

    Or, you know, psychologists and psychiatrists.

    Pffft. Who needs ‘em? I’d take unqualified people whose only expertise is familiarity with ancient tomes any day!

  30. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    As a Canadian (outraged) I do find one silver lining in this awfully dark cloud:

    The number of people in the country who loathe (and I mean LOATHE) the Harper Cons is rising steadily. One can only hope that Harper and his cronies’ continued support and application of official bigotry burns a mark so deeply upon the voters’ psyche that this party of hatred and exclusion gets eviscerated in the next general election.

    After all, it happened to Mulroney and the Progressive Conservatives.

    (Mmm. Prime Minister Mulcair. Sounds good. What the hell. Prime Minister Trudeau, the son, sounds pretty good, too.)

  31. NitricAcid says

    Hairhead- the only problem with that, is that there’s always more than one candidate who is not Conservative. If the NDPer gets 33% of the vote, the Liberal gets 33%, and the Tory gets 34%, then the Tory gets elected (despite being the most loathed person on the ballot).

  32. coyotenose says

    I’m sorry, my brain is refusing to parse the comments after seeing the part up top about Canada having 15,000 federal prisoners.

    Is America that fucked up? I knew that we’re fucked up, but… we’re really THAT fucked up?

    And now I’m seeing that we have half a million people working just to operate our state and federal prisons.

  33. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    Nitric Acid: if our opposition party leaders are smart and not complete egomaniacs, they would agree on “safe” seats and not run candidates in those riding, and have a prior agreement to a power-sharing coalition government.

    If they were rational and really investing in, you know *governing* rather than satisfying their egos with being mini-kings.

    I live in hope.

  34. says

    @Hairhead

    I’m thinking that the nail in their coffin may very well be this E. coli situation. That’s affected just about everyone, it’s going to get Alberta farmers feeling not too swell about how Harper’s handled food safety, it will remind Ontario voters about how the same group of people and their policies were the cause of Walkerton, it calls into question their approach to other government oversight (e.g. environment)…

    I see that there are already demands for a public inquiry.

  35. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    coyotenose: You are right, America is fucked when it comes to prisons.

    1) America imprisons more persons per capita than any other comparable nation.
    2) America imprisons more in absolute numbers than any other nation, including such havens of democracy as China and Russia
    3) The American prison system is a growth-driver in the GDP. Private prison corporations now sign agreements with states in which the states guarantee (yes, GUARANTEE) the minimum levels of inmates necessary to ensure profits.
    4) In some states, there are so many prison guards that prison guard unions and their pension fund cash play significant roles in both elections and the pushing through of more-prisons legislation, legislation which includes both more funding to build and staff more prisons, automatic-sentencing laws, and the criminalizing of minor infractions.

    Yes. That is fucked. And I see Harper and the Cons, with their hate campaigns, and their commitment to BUILD MORE PRISONS leading Canada down that road too.

  36. NitricAcid says

    Alas, they cannot simply “not run” candidates in agreed-upon ridings. If they do not run a candidate in every riding, they lose status as a federal party.

    Of course, I noticed that in my riding (which waffles between Conservative and NDP), the Liberals tend to field a college student as a candidate. But even the few votes that that kid gets is enough to prevent the NDP from winning half the time.

  37. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    Nitric, you are wrong in this.

    I just checked the Elections Canada website. There are a whole bunch of parties running federally and WITHOUT candidates in every riding.

    I just checked my memory. For over a decade, the Bloc Quebecois have been running, and been elected federally, and even came close, a couple of years ago, to being partners in a federal coalition government with the Liberals and NDP.

    I repeat, the Libs and NDP could easily agree on a number of uncontested ridings and run and be elected as a coalition government.

  38. says

    The discrepancy in the statistics of those who do not identify with a system of belief (estimated at 30 %) lies with the heavy bias that the Canadian judicial system has with incarcerating Aboriginals country-wide. This slightly outdated article from the Globe & Mail in 2011 shows that this subsection of the Canadian population (c.a. 3 %) is grossly over represented in terms of federal sentencing (c.a. 22 %). My best guess is that most of these individuals do not identify with traditional religions or do not have their belief systems made identifiable for statistical reasons. The potential equality between percentage incarcerated atheist persons and those from the population that identify as atheist, therefore, would be more appropriately stated as ‘heavily skewed’.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/the-national-shame-of-aboriginal-incarceration/article587566/

  39. dannicoy says

    give the man a break… Maybe they are planning to lock a whole bunch more Christians.

  40. John Horstman says

    @1: He made my brain bluescreen for a minute there; maybe that was the point.

    @39: You forgot the use of prisoners as slave labor, often for profit, by federal, state, and private prisons.

  41. sheldonfunk says

    As a Canadian, I sigh and head desk whenever I see Vic Toews’ name in the newspaper.

    As a Canadian in his riding, I ball up in rage when I see his name in the paper, on signs or when I receive his smug newsletter in the mail.

  42. Kichae says

    I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere, and it really needs to be…

    This is the same government that just opened an Office of Religious Freedom. I can’t help but see this decision as a way of melting the brains of the government’s growing number of critics.

  43. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    Wait, if these chaplains are all about serving their sheep and tending to their immortal souls, why the fuck do they have to paid by the government?

    They won’t do it for free? Not even part time on rotation or whatever?

    No congregations donated to keep their religious chaplain working on keeping their sheep and converting more?

    That’s some weak ass conviction they have to help people in prison with their religious conflicts.

    Not that I think the chaplains are any helpful but seriously, if they care and believe so much they should be willing to do it for free.

    Or is there are reason they have to be on the payroll?

    Even with an legitimate excuse to fire chaplains due to budget constraints, their choice in firing is clearly discriminatory. How the fuck is a Christian chaplain going to provide religious counseling to a Sikh, Buddist or a Muslim? With those chaplains who know nothing and are useless for other religions get fired?

    This whole thing just sucks. Bah.

    Hey, maybe if they get sued for this firing, they won’t have enough money to employ any chaplains.

  44. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    Well, shit sorry. I was trying to fix typos and such when, accidentally, I hit submit instead of preview again.

    “Or is there are reason” I mean really? That comment was just bad. Please forgive and ignore my writing issues there.

  45. gregvalcourt says

    After reversing a decision to hire a Wiccan Priest as chaplain in the prison system, Vic Toews (the Conservative in-house baby sitter exploiter) ordered a review of the chaplains in the prison system, and as a result, fired all but one non-christian chaplain.

    “Upon reviewing the program, it was determined that changes were necessary so that this program supports the freedom of religion of inmates while respecting taxpayers’ dollars,” – Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety.

    Freedom of religion, my ass. The changes targeted non-Christians. I get a laugh out of the thought of the average conservative Christian disapproving of “witchcraft” while blindly failing to recognize the hocus pocus nature of their own beliefs.

    Now I believe in equal treatment: don’t provide funding to any of them. They can promote their beliefs on their own dime. Don’t they pride themselves on charity and volunteer service?

    The only mention of religion in the Canadian Constitution is the clause about religious freedom. You can’t have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. Therefore, the government cannot endorse one religion over the others. Nor should it provide funding for any sort of religious counselling in any of our institutions.

    Don’t all the anti-socialist conservative Christians see how socialist it is to fund chaplains? I think they turn a blind eye to that, thinking of it as tax funded charity. Of course they won’t see any other services the government funds in the same light, unless their religion gets it’s grubby hands involved in it.

    I’m not exactly thrilled that we are provided counselling service to prisoners on the basis of a book where God violently destroys, murders, his own creation for doing things he doesn’t like. These stories are not the backdrop for instilling morals in prisoners, some of whom can be violent, especially when they don’t get their way.

  46. harbo says

    Satan, Mammon and Cthulhu, could easily mop up a lazy 30%.

    It’s not the species of pastoral support that matters, it is the quality of the person.
    In Australian hospitals I have seen a nun who made entire social work departments redundant, a lay preacher who is now one of my best friends, an unusual Imam who helped people, and an orthodox priest I wish would walk under a truck. The best thing is that they work the same hours as the problems do….as opposed to the “paid Carers” who work 37.5 hours.

  47. lopsided says

    This is illegal and has zero chance of standing up in court. How long it will take to make its way through the court system to be reversed is another story…

  48. says

    However, the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding.

    I take it the idiot thought that no-one would spot that he’s doing exactly that by choosing just one religion?