Last week I meant to add a note that the Centre for Inquiry Canada has issued a press release about the fact that Pattison Outdoor Advertising had rejected their fairly inoffensive new billboard campaign in Vancouver.
A pretty slick ad that’s pretty hard to find fault with.
During my work with the BC Humanist Association last year, we managed to help raise awareness of how the longstanding tradition of Gideon’s distributing Bibles to grade 5 students continued unabated in the Chilliwack and Abbotsford School Districts. This process continued despite the BC School Act requiring all schools be “strictly secular” and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being widely interpreted as protecting the freedom from religion.
It’s a common trope that atheists and Humanists don’t give as much (or frequently) as the religious. Lacking formal structures and congregations, there’s less of a culture of philanthropy, both in terms of regular tithes or even to secular charities.
Here in Vancouver, the BC Humanist Association’s team has raised over $3,500 between our 15 team members (comprised of BCHA, Vancouver Skeptics, and UBC Freethinkers members).
Our walk is this Saturday, so if you can spare a few dollars, why not chip into my campaign. Remember that every dollar you donate is being matched and Canadian donations over $25 are eligible for a tax-receipt.
Every gift, big and small, is appreciated and helps highlight the compassion and charity we all have.
Most of our members were quite happy with the release, although some would have preferred much stronger language, but I chose to walk a soft line (we can always harden language later). A few people complained that this was unnecessary based on the language she used and that it may paint Humanists in a poor light. My response was as follows (copied from one specific letter I received):
I completely share your vision of a community beyond belief and am working hard toward that end. We have an increasing number of events in Metro Vancouver that are reaching out to many different audiences. For example, I am hoping to build more programming for secular parenting, grief beyond belief, and secular addiction treatment. Outside of Vancouver, I am working to bring humanist communities to the eastern shore of Vancouver Island and to ensure the continued success of communities along the Sunshine Coast and in the interior.
However, building a community is not our sole purpose. Among our other goals is to advocate for secular values in the public sphere. One of these values is a commitment to secularism. As you point out, Ms. Clark may have intended her statement to be more about the generic courage to take controversial decisions, it can also be seen as using the Bible to defend traditional morality. For example, for the second year as premier, Ms. Clark will not be attending the Vancouver Pride Parade (while it will be the third year that the BCHA will be in attendance). Similarly, while she has pledged to work to fight bullying in schools, her plan is noticeably silent on LGBTQ-bullying – a leading cause of suicides among LGBTQ teenagers. Finally, her commitment to the Bible as a tool for decision making and her emphasis on raising “moral” children will undoubtedly leave her supporting BC’s discriminatory independent school system, where Catholic schools that have fired lesbian teachers receive 50% per-student funding from the government.
The fear that I, and many of our members, have is that if Ms. Clark bases some of her decisions on the Bible (the ability to undertake long term policy despite short term controversy), she may base other decisions on the Bible too. My point with the statement is that there are much better principles to derive public policy from than a book that many consider to be inerrant.
Regardless of the above arguments, it is further questionable for the premier of a province as diverse as BC to appear on a Christian talk show in the first place, unless she makes a habit of appearing on all faith and cultural talk shows.
My goal with the release was not to demonize Christianity or her right to read the Bible, but to draw attention to the dangers of an elected official basing their decisions on religion and ideology.
Finally, the BCHA is a democratically governed organization, and all members are entitled to their opinions, including dissenting ones. I believe that this statement falls within the majority view within our organization (as I have received a number of supportive emails since the release) but I am open to changes in the group. You are welcome to make your case among our members – either through the email list-serv, a post on our blog or in person at one of our meetings (just let me know in advance, so I can schedule time).