David Rand’s Quebec-based “Atheist Freethinkers” is positioning itself as an embarrassment to the Canadian freethought movement.
Rand stands nearly alone in the debate in English Canada by supporting Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values. The Charter ostensibly proposes to officially declare Quebec a secular province but only does so by demanding that some provincial employees remove some religious symbols, while larger declarations of religious privilege – like the crucifix in the National Assembly and state-sponsored religious schools – will remain in full force.
His latest press release dishonestly attempts to paint critics of the charter as ignorant, calling opposition “inflammatory and demagogic.” Thorough criticism of the Charter was nicely laid out by Indi (part 1, part 2) on Canadian Atheist after Rand co-authored an equally disingenuous “guide for discussion.” Another great resource is the UK National Secular Society’s response to France’s attempts to ban the burka in public.
Rand hypocritically declares the opposition to be mere “identity politics,” which is exactly what you could call arguing that those with an atheist identity calling for protection under a Charter of Values.
What grates me most about this sort of opposition though is the pure intolerance of it. As though someone’s choice to wear a turban somehow influences my ability to receive government services from them. Does Rand honestly think that these garments are worn for the purpose of proselytization and forcing others to become more religious?
The only way these symbols could be rationally viewed as state endorsement would be if all employees were forced to wear them. Put a headscarf on every woman and demand every man grow a beard and I might suspect a fundamentalist stream of Islam were infecting our government, but if I instead see a workforce that is as diverse as the population it is serving, I – and I suspect most rational people – don’t see it as anything more than multiculturalism in action. Meanwhile, as Rand correctly points out, the giant crucifix and tax privileges for religious communities are state endorsements of religion but this Charter is silent on those issues.
Finally, I really must call out this final bit of absurdity: “[The Charter should include] withdrawal of the Ethics and Religious Culture program from public schools.”
This is the mandatory class that all Quebec public school students take to learn about world religions and secular worldviews. Ironically for Rand, a number of Catholic parents also opposed the class, as they would rather their children remain ignorant about the existence of other strains of thought. Their fight eventually landed them before the Supreme Court, which rejected the argument and favoured requiring all students to learn.
Let me reiterate this point: David Rand and the Atheist Freethinkers are making the same argument as religious parents who want to keep children ignorant.
I can only guess at his motivation behind this but on the surface it looks like Rand is so afraid of (or so disdainful for) religion that he would rather children be ignorant than know that some people believe different things.
Perhaps the biggest irony here is that courses like this, ones that have students consider other perspectives, are among the best ways to promote critical thinking and atheism (since they can’t all be right, but they can all be wrong), and just in general make a more tolerant society.
So this isn’t me trying to pick another petty fight with other atheists who generally share my goals, this is me condemning versions of atheism and freethought that I view as toxic, ignorant, and dangerous. They are well on their way to becoming the Westboro Baptists of the Canadian Atheist community.
Postscript: I was considering also adding some criticism of their group’s effort to hijack the Montreal Pride Parade with an anti-religious message but I’ll leave it without comment for now.