UofA wantes money to build church

In about my second or third year at the University of Alberta, a referendum was held to charge students a fee to build a new Physical Activities Complex (PAC). The fee failed, in part because students of the day would be paying for a building to come and would also have no input on the design or operation of the facility.

Basically, most of us saw it as a grab by PhysEd students to make everyone pay for them to get a new building.

Well, PAC is back as PAW, but now the fee will only be put in place once the building is finished. Further, it looks like students will actually get a majority role in the makeup of the board of the building.

But there’s another key difference. PAW stands for “Physical Activity & Wellness” and in terms of “wellness” the supporters state the following:

Broad Scope of Wellness – The PAW Centre will combine new construction with renovations of existing facilities in order to address the broader idea of health and wellness. Physical, mental, and spiritual wellness concerns were identified and addressed in the design of the facility. This holistic approach will ensure the PAW Centre appeals to all students. [emphasis added]

So how will they address these spiritual concerns?

  • Meditation/Yoga Rooms – special facilities will cater to rapidly-growing programs aiming to focus and relax the body and mind.
  • Prayer Space – adequate space for prayer is critical to addressing the spiritual aspects of wellness for many students. The PAW Centre will address the space shortage for groups on campus that desire a large space to pray.

This reminds me of the news releases from the University of Toronto in 2005 when they were building a Multi-Faith Centre. The newly formed UT Secular Alliance, led then by now CFI Canada Executive Director Justin Trottier, opposed the creation of the building on the grounds that a secular university should not be dedicating money to the promotion of religion.

In the end the UofT still built the building, but the university did take secular worldviews into account and now includes a Humanist chaplain and a link to the UTSA.

Over a year ago the UofA agreed with the UofA Atheists and Agnostics that the school is a pluralistic secular institution and modified the convocation charge to include more humanistic elements and a sort-of opt-out of using your degree for God. The challenge for the UAAA this time will be to either outright oppose the creation of dedicated prayer space on campus – with student funds – or to demand space for Humanistic and secular world views.

While I am not longer at the school, I will be keenly interested in how this referendum goes, and what dialogue the UAAA can spark.

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5 thoughts on “UofA wantes money to build church”

  1. Unfortunately, attitudes like this further reaffirm the religious right’s accusations that secularists want to suppress religious freedom and acceptance. Some folks require a public contemplative space that they can not access in being away from their original faith community. It does not hurt anyone, nor does it force the views of anyone on anyone else. If I were an atheist, I like to thing I’d spend more time lobbying against tax dollars and public funds subsidizing corporations rather than going after benign and–in many cases–beneficial public spaces because they are attached to some ill-defined blanket concept of “religion”. I get the feeling that adding another wing to the business school would be met with far less hostility.

    I’m going to be perfectly honest. I am offended by the anti-religious sentiment of many atheists that goes beyond the undesirable aspects of some faiths. There is a desire to suppress and compartmentalize religious faith into a purely private activity just like everything else in our highly managed technological society. There are plenty of good religious people that are being alienated by this attitude prevalent in an overzealous secular left. There is no room, apparently, in the camp of those who make claims of diversity and “thinking for yourself” for an actual diversity of thought and opinion.

  2. Ian, I generally agree with you on these issues but it seems not entirely honest to call this a “church”. Highlighting “mediation/yoga rooms” as nonsecular is hardly charitable, either. I would be awfully surprised if the prayer space was closed to humanists (and just as surprised if groups with humanistic and secular world views actually made use of it).

    I’m an atheist, but I’m with Ryan on this; it’s a bit spiteful to oppose the project solely on the basis that it has a prayer space, isn’t it? I certainly wouldn’t have opposed SUB just because it has chaplains’ offices.

    1. I used the word church in the title mostly as an incendiary, it’s not really accurate for general prayer space. Nevertheless, I didn’t say the UAAA ought to oppose it this project, I stated that they can “oppose the creation of dedicated prayer space” or advocate for a humanist voice within that space. The latter is what ended up working at UofT, and it’s what I see as being a better direction here. Nevertheless, it’s not my decision to make as I am no longer at the UofA.

      Ideally the UAAA would pose questions at SU forums about this referendum along the lines of questioning the necessity for the space, who’s pushing for the space, who will control bookings for the space (the Chaplaincy may not be as favourable to atheists/humanists booking it versus religious groups), and so forth. Those questions in the forum, and in print, will lead to a greater dialogue over the legitimacy of the Chaplaincy (which I think should exist, but with a Humanist chaplain), prayer space on campus, etc. Dialogue is almost always good (at very least for getting the UAAA press and therefore members). Then, further action would depend on what the answers are to the questions and whether the referendum passes.

  3. I’m voting against this whether there is religious space in it or not.
    I’m getting sick of all of the mandatory fees being added on for facilities that I cannot or won’t use. I already have to pay $60 term in mandatory recreation fees, and now they want to add another $30 with this, with the main benefit I’d be getting out of it being more gym space.
    I don’t live in Edmonton, using gym facilities at the University is not practical for me. It’s also not practical for the large proportion of students who do not live close to the University. I would rather take that $180/year and put it towards the gym membership that I pay for to access a gym that is closer to my home, rather than over an hour away at the University.

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