Taking them on Solo

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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  1. says

    That’s the annoying part of it, really – Hemant Mehta has been firmly on the right side of the issues on many occasions, and has really delivered before, and this response is unworthy of him.

  2. says

    A bit off-topic, but I have a story about Saskatoon – I lived there for ten years, and was constantly surprised at how conservative it was.

    I lived at the edge of town, and the city was putting in a new road behind my house. They contracted the work out to a private company, and the work crew that showed up actually had a rebel flag flying from the equipment.


    There was NO legitimate claim about how the flag could be part of the history of the area, part of the culture, etc. So I called City Hall and lodged a complaint. The next day, and every day thereafter, the crew showed up without the flag.

    The worst part? I shared the story with my co-workers: university-educated, highly-skilled, part of an workforce with a LOT of international professionals, doing science research, and to a one, the Saskatchewan-raised ones simply couldn’t understand my issue with the flag.

    So, yeah, I can just imagine how well Mr. Solo’s complaint is going.

    Oh, so many Saskatoon stories… getting introduced at a professional event as “This is K., she’s single”. Being told, by a young, female, M. Sc.-wielding “friend” that any woman who doesn’t have children is “incomplete”, being told I lived in the “weird” area of town since it included shops similar to (the horror!!!) Ten Thousand Villages…. I’m SO glad I moved back to Ontario!!

  3. says

    This is the problem I’ve been having with Hemant of late. He’ll really rip into someone for being offensive in any way (which, I don’t think Mr. Solo was at all), but if you’re one of the darling youth he so loves, it’s OK.

    I mean, awesome job he did supporting some young atheists who make waves in school, but he’s very mercurial on whether or not it’s the “right” time to make waves.

  4. Zengaze says

    I hate the Uncle Tom routine.

    Well sir da masters have been good to me, and they are all good people, why you want to upset them by telling them they shouldn’t own slaves, they’ll figure it out in their own good time.

    He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.—- MLK

    If it was left to uncle Tom his grand children would still be in chains. Funny how uncle toms berate those prepared to take positive action to ensure justice for all, and after the justice is achieved agree that it should have been that way all along. It’s almost apathetic. But it’s definitely pathetic.

    Maybe Rosa shouldn’t have made such a fuss on that bus, hell it was only a seat.

  5. says

    *looks at section 27* Huh what do you know O.O

    Well I have to admit when I originally read this I agreed with Hemant but you have completely turned my mind around on the whole thing.

    Now when can we get this section 27 thing to apply to our stupid anti LGBT Ontario catholic school board. 😛 Alas I think that one’ll take some time.

  6. says

    Apparently the Catholic school board (and only the Catholic school board) has a ream of exemptions to various Provincial statutes. It’s fixable, but there would need to be the political will to amend the provincial charter, and that’s a whole Pandora’s box right there.

    Also, in your face Hemant!

  7. ash says

    I think at best, the accomodationists should just leave it at “no comment”. Hey, if you can’t get behind those of us call religion and the faithful to task, at least get the hell out the way while we do. You are perfectly free to spend your time mollycoddling the devout and pius, but quit throwing us under the bus goddammit

  8. William R. Dickson says

    From “How to be an ally” from the Dartmouth Center for Women and Gender:

    Remember that being called a “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobe” is never more harmful (or more important) than being on the receiving end of racism, sexism, or homophobia. Do not police tone. If racism makes people of color angry, do not tell them to be more patient. If LGBTQ people express frustration with cisgender heterosexual people, do not tell them to be patient. Do not tell them their anger is “just as bad” as the active marginalization they experience. It’s not. Do not tell them to be nicer. The entire world tells them to be quiet about their marginalization, to accept it without saying a word, to smile in the face of unrelenting dehumanization. No ally would ask the same.

    Atheists can learn a lot from people fighting sexism, homophobia and racism — people have been doing it for a long time. Reinventing the wheel is dumb, and there are natural alliances to be made here (which is why it’s so frustrating when atheists dismiss concerns about racism, sexism, etc. within the movement).

  9. CanadianChick says

    Hemant is great, but yeah, sometimes there is a blind spot when dealing with issues outside the US.

    This is exactly what the Human Rights Tribunals are for – I suspect there’s not much similar to them in the US, judging from how often I have had to explain the concept to Americans!

  10. says

    As a response to:
    “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.”

    I really doubt that the citizens of Canada realize how much they are mocked. I am from Wisconsin, and I can tell you that being such a close neighbor has given us quite she show of how hilarious their logic can be sometimes. In a way, they are almost isolated from the rest of the world in how they think. They are like the ‘in between’ of progression from the United States, and the old order from 100 years ago. Every time I hear something in the news that is based in Canada, it only strengthens this view. Now I don’t believe that all of the citizens are that way, and surely there are a great number of them who are rightly pissed off at the stupidity that is their country, but I personally believe they are in need of a revolution. Then again, so are we, but I don’t see Canada having the same kind of political power towards the rest of the world.

    This sounds incredibly bigoted. -_- Sorry. My point is just that the ‘great country of Canada!’ needs to keep up with the times because they are falling behind, and they are being laughed at because of it.

  11. says

    My point is just that the ‘great country of Canada!’ needs to keep up with the times because they are falling behind, and they are being laughed at because of it.

    Said the American.

  12. says

    Funny, I was thinking that little rant — Christian nation mythology and all — sounds identical to the crap that comes from the American Idiot Right.

    Did you have a point?

  13. Springleaf says

    I assume that you are all celebrating that more than half of U.S. babies are now born to minorities.
    You are probably celebrating that the U.S. will become in about 4 decades (perhaps sooner) a majority non-white country.
    I am just wandering why do so many non-whites so desperately want to live in western countries, i.e. majority white countries.
    Why is immigration to such countries that attractive?
    Why don’t Africans migrate to other African countries?
    Why don’t Chinese, Punjabis, etc. migrate to Nigeria or Indonesia?

  14. says

    I assume that you are all celebrating that more than half of U.S. babies are now born to minorities.

    Yup! I’ve got my party hat on, and my dick out.

    Shoo, troll.

  15. Zengaze says

    Your misses wasn’t looking to classy downtown on the hunt to add to those stats.

    Picks up bag and heads for door marked moderation….. Yeah but it was worth it.

  16. Conceived in Liberty says

    Hemant Mehta is an Uncle Tom, a wannabe slave, and a bootlicker to the Christian majority. Instead of calling himself “Friendly Atheist,” he should call himself “Uncle Tom Mehta” or “Milquetoast.”

  17. kerfluffle says

    Oh silly, silly troll. You’ve missed something, even while quoting it! Here it is, “More than half of U.S. babies are now born to minorities.”

    Born to. As in born here. As in natural American citizens who came here from the womb. More American than my grandfather who immigrated from Ireland.

    As for why people from all over the world (some of them white! true story) immigrate to the Western world, well we’ve done a pretty bang up job of advertising our-selves as the best. All that imperialism and paternalism goes both ways. If we’re justifying military actions based on how cool and democratic we are, people will believe us. And they will come here to get some of that awesome democracy that we’re always going on about.

    And they will have babies here. American babies who will grow up and pay taxes, have more babies and keep this country going. Just like every generation has done. So save yourself some rage and hair loss. The only thing different between those babies and my dad is a few bars on the pantone color strip.

  18. Springleaf says

    Nice collection of brainswashed leftists and ultra-liberals to the point of self-efacement.
    Listen, if you feel insecure because some comments do not dance according to your tunes, make this blog private, so you can polish eachother’s apples ad infinitum.

  19. Springleaf says

    Yes, Canada is a great country, the country that perhaps saved some of your ancestors from slavery.

  20. says

    I am immediately uncomfortable with anyone using the “Uncle Tom” analogy outside of a very specific context. I don’t think Hemant is a traitor or any such nonsense – I think he’s wrong and applies his standards selectively.

  21. says

    BRAINWASHED LEFTISTS! ULTRA-LIBERALS! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE! You’re like a living parody of yourself.

    I approve all comments except for spam. You are free to broadcast your ignorance for all to see as much as you like. I’m just not going to bother responding to it. Have fun!

  22. says

    My ancestors are from Ireland, Germany and the Caribbean, so it’s pretty unlikely that any of them were slaves rescued by Canadians. If you’re interested in learning about some of Canada’s history with slavery, please feel free to read my series on Canadian black history that went live in February.

  23. Springleaf says

    How typical: all those who have different opinions are “ignorant” …
    “You’re like a living parody of yourself.”
    How do you know if I am a parody of myself since you do not know me?
    As for Canada’s black slavery… not a secret. Anyone can read about it.
    In exchange, I suggest you read about former slaves who became slave owners themselves (in the States). Wonder why?
    Also, a few inspirational facts about those white men who put their lives at risk in order to help and liberate slaves.
    You probably know that in 1750, Anthony Benezet set up an evening class for slave children which he ran from his own home.

  24. says

    Sabrinapuppy, Canada legalized gay marriage nationwide almost ten years ago. Abortion has been legal and supplied and paid for by provincial healthcare for almost 25 years. It’s true that every country has benighted citizens. But when we look at the U.S. we see a bureaucratic, gun-happy mess.

  25. llewelly says

    Springleaf | May 17, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Why don’t Africans migrate to other African countries?
    Why don’t Chinese, Punjabis, etc. migrate to Nigeria or Indonesia?

    There are about 8 million Chinese Indonesians. Malaysia is almost 24% Chinese. Chinese, in fact, emigrate to many other nations, and have for centuries – though there are only about 50,000 Chinese in Nigeria. As for Africa, the majority of African refugees go to other African nations.

    You’ve no reason to think you are the special target of invading brown masses.

  26. Springleaf says

    Canada has the highest immigration per capita in the world.
    Do you know the source of this migration? I cna assure you that it is not Europe.
    Yes, the Chinese have recently invaded Africa (especially Botzwana). And they treat Africans as slaves.
    As for the African refugees who find refuge in other African countries, it is normal. They do not have to cross the ocean to claim refugee status in Canada or Europe.
    The closest safe place is what they must look for. It should be the UN policy, instead of imposing refugee quotas per country.
    Going back to this guy who complained about the prayer… I wonder if his reaction would have been the same if a Muslim had been asking for a moment to pray.
    He is very vocal against the Christians.
    Would he be that vocal in a non-Christian country?

  27. says

    Canada is a non-Christian country.

    And that argument is as old as it is stupid. “I don’t see you picking on the MOOSLIMS!” Yeah, show me an example of a publicly-led Islamic prayer in a secular country, and I’ll get angry about it.

  28. Epinephrine says

    As an atheist Canadian, I can attest to the fact that Canada is unfortunately a religious country, and one in which Christianity is privileged, much as it would be in a Christian country. For example, by the Constitution Act, 1982, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:” which is clearly religious and by the use of “God” is in line with Christianity. Our national anthem has lines like, “God keep our land glorious and free,” and in French is even more clearly Christian, with, “Car ton bras sait porter l’épée, il sait porter la croix,” and, “Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,” referring to the carrying of the cross, and to our faith; I doubt most would view the cross as a symbol of anything but Christianity.

    Our constitution guarantees that there can be catholic schools, and provincially this is reinforced, with Catholic and Protestant school boards being permitted, but not others (on public funding) – this has been denounced by the UN, for example, as discrimination on the basis of religion. Prayer is part of the day’s events in parliament, though it is no longer exclusively Christian, it still shows the religious nature of government.

  29. Epinephrine says

    At least 40% of Canadians don’t think the earth is 6,000 years old. Oh, and let me know when you finally legalise gay marriage, have a woman as president, and stop using the death penalty.

  30. Sheldon says

    Really! I initially thought Mr. Solo was over the top in his response and said so in comment on another website. Thankfully, someone posted a link to this site and I am now convinced that my laziness in not getting the facts is shameful. At least, this was an isolated incident for me… a brain fart. Perhaps, I was in a frame of mind where I was thinking, ffs, isn’t there anything more important happening right now and what time does the puck drop tonight(?)

    My laziness pales in comparison to yours. The extreme right-wing religious nut-bags in America consistently shit all over your constitutions, both federal and state. They constantly lie about the alleged religious leanings of your founding fathers and attribute religious quotes to them in an effort to make them appear Christian. Look at your bible-belt states for some of the most backward and primitive legislation in the western world concerning gays and women. We have nothing going on here in Canada that even comes close.

    If the rest of the world is laughing at this side of the world, they’re not looking at Canadians.

  31. bryanfeir says

    Yeah, the provincial separate schools are something that date back well before the founding of the country, basically as a sort of mutual non-proselytization agreement between the mostly-Catholic ‘Lower Canada’ (Quebec) and the mostly-Protestant ‘Upper Canada’ (Ontario). Each side ensured that there would be a separate school board for members of the other side, to assuage fears of school being used as a conversion platform. (Note that these separate schools still have to abide by the general provincial regulations.)

    Only three of the ten provinces currently have separate school systems; four of them (including B.C.) never did. Quebec dumped the religious separate school system back in 1998; not only was it no longer necessary, but Quebec in general has been rather disappointed in its primarily-Catholic religious background.

    Ontario, unfortunately, still has a separate Catholic school system, and the way that John Tory’s proposal to generalize the religious aspect got used against him in the election pretty much guarantees the whole system isn’t going to be looked at again seriously for several years.

  32. says

    LOL. This is coming from the person who thinks Crommunist and all vaguely brown people are descended from North American slaves who were rescued by noble compassionate white men. (Remind me again, who made them slaves in the first place?)

    You also complain that white Canada is being invaded by evil migrants who refuse to assimilate. I assume you speak Inuit/Eskimo/Yupik, because you’re so keen on assimilating to the culture of the people whose land you’re in. I’m sure you respect the aboriginal Canadians – you know, the ones who are still left after your noble compassionate ancestors butchered most of them and stole their land.

    If new migrants to Canada behaved the way white migrants did, you would be dead already, with hordes of foreigners living on your land. You’d better pray the new migrants are gentler than the last ones.

    Stay classy, dude.

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