Radio Freethinker on Tuesday

Just a quick post tonight.

On Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be on CITR’s Radio Freethinker show talking about all the latest news from the BC Humanists.

The show runs for a full hour, so if you have ideas for what I should talk about, drop them below (obviously soon so that I can be somewhat prepared).

The show will be available as a podcast afterwards and I’ll link to it here when it’s online.

Bible no basis for public policy, declare BC Humanists

BC Premier Christy Clark recently went on 100 Huntley Street and explained that she finds her courage to make tough decisions from what the Bible teaches (~5:30 mark in the video)

This story prompted me to quickly throw together a press release with some input from the BCHA members. That release can be read here: Bible No Basis For Public Policy, Declare BC Humanists.

The piece was quoted by

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).

Support the World Cerebral Palsy Challenge

One of the projects that I’m working on right now is to raise awareness and recruit teams for the upcoming World Cerebral Palsy Challenge in support of the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia.

The Challenge started two years ago among a network of CP associations in Australia. It was so successful that they’ve now essentially franchised the fundraiser to associations in Canada and across the United States.

The premise is very simple and is explained best by their promotional video:

Basically, just get active and promote a healthy lifestyle while raising awareness and money for children and adults living with cerebral palsy. Participants register as teams of 4 for $25/adult or $10/child and track their daily steps through the interactive website. We send everyone a pedometer and have a conversion chart in case you do other activities (running, weights, bocce ball, etc.). The Challenge runs from World CP Day, September 4th, until October 2nd.

For those teams that register here in BC, I’ve scored a few prizes for you:

  1. Every team that enters by August 5th will be entered to win a pack of four tickets to either the August 13th or August 25th Vancovuer Canadians baseball games.
  2. The top individual fundraiser at the start of the Challenge, Sept. 4th, will receive 2 tickets to any 2012 BC Lions (the 2011 Grey Cup Champions) home game.
  3. The person who takes the most steps during the Challenge will win a BC Lions hat, autographed by running back #33 Andrew Harris.

Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that limits movement. It varies from very minor cases (a slight difficulty walking), to severe cases where even eating and breathing are difficult. My brother’s case falls somewhere in the middle. He is unable to walk, but he can talk and play video games just fine.

CP is caused by damage to the brain that occurs during pregnancy, birth, or in the first three years. It’s not degenerative or contagious, but it is a lifelong condition.

The Cerebral Palsy Association of BC describes itself as follows:

The Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia  was started in 1954 by a group of parents who wanted to assist their children living with CP to reach their maximum potential within society. Today we are an independent charitable organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. We provide support, education, and information throughour BC. Our Mission is:

  • to raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy in the community;
  • to assit those living with Cerebral Palsy to reach their maximum potential; and
  • to work to see those living with Cerebral Palsy realize their place as equals in a diverse society.

I hope you’ll register a team today or, at very least, sponsor my individual campaign.

Ontario passes Anti-Homophobia Law, BC next?

Today’s good news is that the Ontario Liberals and NDP cooperated long enough to pass anti-bullying legislation which specifically supports gay rights.

Furthermore, the bill forces Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools to permit students to form Gay Straight Alliances.

While those Catholic schools will continue to receive public money, some of which force students to endorse anti-choice petitions, it is a step in the right direction to ensure that LGBTQ students in the Catholic system enjoy the same rights as their secular school peers.

With any luck, BC’s coming anti-bullying legislation, promised by premier Christy Clark, will aim for the bar set by Ontario.

Vancouver’s Freethought Movement Grows

Today was a very good day.

This morning the trend of increasingly successful BCHA meetings continued, with just over thirty humanists gathering at the Oakridge Seniors’ Centre for a discussion on Neuroscience and Memory. Four-year-old Addysen was perhaps one of the youngest attendees to one of our meetings yet – although I think she was too advanced for the discussion and preferred to go to the Lego Store.

Afterwards, I headed to New Westminster for a new Skeptics in the Pub meetup, organized by Peter Naugler. This event was organized on about a week or two notice, yet still brought out another thirty skeptics (with very little overlap from the BCHA meeting) due to the convenient location.

Peter didn’t realize how successful this event would be, otherwise he would have called ahead to ensure that The Met Pub had adequate staff. Still, the one waitress that was working was quite efficient and patient with our large and loud group that descended on her Sunday afternoon without warning.

It was fantastic getting to meet so many new people and I got a number of new ideas for programs and events to try to reach broader and wider audiences in the future. It’s going to be an exciting summer!

Vancouver Secular Parenting Meetup

While I don’t have kids of my own (yet), I see the need for a larger secular parenting support within the freethought/humanist movement.

This is why I’m excited to be working with some great parents to start a secular parenting meetup group in Vancouver through the BC Humanists.

The group will kick-off after our Sunday, June 17th meeting (Father’s Day), at which we will be discussing Dave McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief. The meeting is from 10am-noon at Oakridge Seniors’ Centre. Following the discussion, we will move to the nearby Columbia Park (42nd Ave and Columbia Street) for a barbecue and picnic.

This informal meeting will help gauge the interest in this type of group and allow us to determine what kind of programming to put on later.

With luck, we can hopefully set up a freethinker summer camp next year and maybe I will get to polish off my DiscoverE science presentation skills.

New Abortion Caravan Counter-Protest in photos

On May 29, 2012, anti-choicers led by the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform launched their “New Abortion Caravan” in Vancouver. Their goal is to drive their graphic anti-abortion trucks across the country, descending on Ottawa for Canada Day.

After word of this was picked up by the pro-choice community, a counter-protest was hastily thrown together, but managed to attract a similar sized crowd to the pro-lifers. We ended up out-lasting the pro-lifers, both in terms of energy and time on the Art Gallery steps.

Cars were generally supportive of us, with a number honking in support of women’s rights.

Take a look through the photos below for more.

Continue reading New Abortion Caravan Counter-Protest in photos

Quacks invade Richmond City Council

Richmond’s city council recently approved a motion to ban genetically-modified crops from being planted in their municipality. Richmond is likely the largest municipality in BC to pass such a ban and is one of the few with a large area of agricultural land. The motion was largely symbolic, as crop seeds are regulated federally.

Last night, the council held further hearings on the issue and by the reports from a couple skeptics who attended, the presenters were predominantly misinformed and anti-GMO. Two people spoke against the motion (in favour of GMOs), out of more than twenty. One of the pro-science advocates was a farmer, but by the reports it sounds like their pleas for rationalism fell on councillors that had already made up their mind.

Most of the anti-GMO crowd conflated their disgust at some of the extreme and unethical business practices of Monsanto with genetic engineering technology, which unfortunately disposes of all the advantages offered.

I don’t have much more to add to this story. It would have been nice to have had more warning that this issue was coming up but given the recent disarray of Centre for Inquiry Vancouver, the local skeptic movement has lost much of its organizational ability. While I strongly believe that skepticism is a vital branch of Humanism, to date the BC Humanist Association has not had much involvement in these types of campaigns. Furthermore, moving into this realm would be an expansion of our mandate, which may water down our core mandate – i.e. trying to be all things to all people.

Niki Ashton’s Vancouver visit #ndpldr

I should have posted about this ahead of time, but here’s a video I took of Niki Ashton on Tuesday evening when she spoke at the Lion’s Pub in Vancouver. Besides this stump speech, Niki spent most of the evening very casually talking to people (very literally) young and old. Along with the youth for Niki contingent was a 94-year old veteran who was very supportive of her campaign.

I’ll have some thoughts on the leadership race and my preferences soon. I got a call from NDP HQ today that voter packages are heading out next week.