The end of Catholic Schools: Not with a bang but with “creeping incrementalism”

The Windsor Star has a story about how declining enrollment a in local secular and Catholic school boards (both publicly funded) are forcing creative solutions as funding declines.

It sharply highlights the growing need to consider amalgamating the competing systems into a single non-discriminatory body.

Unsurprisingly the local Catholics remain quite comfortable with their privilege, despite an increasingly secular and aging population.

Such integration has caused some concerns among those in the Catholic system about a gradual merging into one system.

“There is the fear of what I call creeping incrementalism,” Iatonna said. “I don’t have that fear.

“I think Catholic schooling will be around because of the desire for it from Catholic parents.”

Minor efforts are already being made to reduce administrative duplication, and it’s predicted to save the province of Ontario over $10 million. One report by a Liberal delegation suggested the total savings for the province could be up to $1.6 billion.

As local boards make this minor steps toward amalgamation, the rights of non-Catholic students to have a secular education must be protected. It’s very foreseeable that a shared Catholic-Public school would push Catholic idolatry and worship on the public side and would potentially limit job prospects for non-Catholic teachers.

Better for the provincial government to take the initiative and provide clear guidance toward a path for one school system.

Quebec Charter hurting secular efforts

Efforts to defend the separation of church and state in English Canada are already suffering as Quebec’s Charter of Secularism Values is used to argue that secularism is “exclusionary” or intolerant.

The latest example comes from the City of Saskatoon, where the city is considering options for a prayer policy for before city council meetings. This move comes after complaints were raised against the long-standing Christian prayer used to open city functions.

City administrators have correctly identified that the principles of secularism and equality leave only two options for prayers at city events: Include all (and no) faiths or none. Either the city makes an effort to include different perspectives during opening remarks (including non-theistic views) or they rid the entire process and leave people to celebrate their own beliefs before commencing business.

Some provincial legislatures have opted for the first option and in some cases Humanists have given opening invocations. Nevertheless, the “all” approach is cumbersome and a bit awkward. Realistically, you’re likely to miss many worldviews (as there are as many religious views as there are people) and each event will alienate those who do not share the faith on display that day.

My preference is therefore for the state to not take a position on religion, as an institution, and let individuals believe what they will. The government has no need to validate different religious viewpoints through collective worship and such activities are best left to the religious.

The complicating factor in making this argument is that the Quebec approach ignores individual freedoms, imposing state secularism over individuality. This inevitably leads to statements from the Mayor of Saskatoon arguing for more religion in the city:

I think everyone has the opportunity to have prayer. If they don’t wish to, that’s fine too. I certainly don’t want to become like Quebec, I’m all for all prayer, I’m for an all-inclusive community, not excluding anyone.

We also get the same language from Councillor Randy Donauer, who instigated the first complaint with Christian prayers at a civic event,

Our goal is not to clamp down and ban any of these things. Like I said, this is not Quebec. I think they’re totally going down the wrong road here and I’m really concerned we’re going to take a first step down that road.

The media loves a simple contrast between two overly simplified views. Here we have repressive and anti-religious Quebec secularism versus an attempt to be inclusive and promote religious freedom and rights. Supporting the Quebec Charter of Values (like some Canadian Atheists are apt to do) feeds this false narrative and works against efforts to end state endorsement of religious privilege while protecting individual freedom of conscience.

Secularism isn’t about taking away people’s rights to pray, believe in god, or express their religiosity (all so long as it doesn’t harm anyone), but an effort to end the privilege of any one theological viewpoint. It protects people through their freedom to believe or not. Unfortunately, the misguided Charter of Values is now being used as a scare tactic to argue that secularism is an attempt to remove people’s religious identities.

Good and Bad People

There’s a Steven Weinberg quote that my atheist friends like to trot out (and I’m likely equally guilty of sharing).

With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

The problem is though that there really aren’t just “good” and “evil” people. Never-minding shades of grey, you have good people who do good and bad things, often depending on their hormones, their mood, peer pressure, and a variety of other causes.

This is why restorative justice programs are so important. Prisons are a very easy way to turn a “good” person who made a mistake into an “evil” person. Instead, by having the perpetrator own up to their crime and learn from it, we can begin to make better citizens, less likely to reoffend.

Go read the latest on the Rationalist Association blog for more about the success of restorative justice programs in some of America’s highest crime districts.

Critics deride restorative justice as the soft option, letting criminals off the hook, but in fact it can’t work without perpetrators acknowledging and taking responsibility for what they have done. “This is not a mediation,” explains Denise Curtis, Program Manager for the Restorative Community Conferencing program in Alameda County, “which usually operates on the assumption that no one is wrong or right. Here the message is ‘You have to make things right.’”

It’s a cultural change that takes time to build. But, according to recent data, it has led to dramatic reductions in fights, aggressive behaviours and suspensions where it has been implemented. The goal is to break “the school to prison pipeline”.

City of Windsor to raise the Christian flag… again.

I got a phone call this morning from Susan in Windsor, Ontario.

Susan’s rightly infuriated that her city council is violating it’s own policy by raising the Christian Flag as part of the annual “March for Jesus” campaign, hosted by a local Christianist organization.

The council’s policy on flag raising (PDF) states:

At no time will the City of Windsor display flags deemed to be inappropriate or offensive in nature or those supporting discrimination, prejudice, political or religious movements.

According to the Windsor Area Rational Free Thinkers’ League, one city staff member disregarded the rule last year using some twisted logic:

City Hall chief administrative officer Helga Reidel told CBC Windsor, “The application is in compliance with the City’s policy because this is not a religious movement. Religious movements try to bring about religious reform, and that’s not what this is.”

To use the word “movements” as an excuse to allow the religious flag is disingenuous, as it in all likelihood betrays the policy’s intended function of preventing the City of Windsor officially endorsing religion. The prevention of such an endorsement would be in accordance with Sections 2 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A Christian organization that has a “commitment is to lift up the name of Jesus, in our city, and to show the world that Jesus is the answer to their life’s situations” is not a movement? Give me a break. This is a clear affront to the separation of church and state, and unless the City of Windsor plans to give equal space for atheist, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious groups, it ought to stick with its ban on religious messages.

Quoting from Susan’s letter (with permission):

Raising a Christian flag at City Hall is the epitome of endorsement. It sends the message that this is a “Christian city” which it is not. Individual cities cannot violate our Canadian Constitution.

As a non-Christian, raising a Christian flag sends the message that the City of Windsor favours one religion over others. This is not only illegal, but it is inconsistent with the goal of equality for all.

March for Jesus is planning on raising their flag on August 19th. Until them, I’m hoping to help Susan raise some noise through various organizations that might be able to provide her a hand. Let me know if you can help Susan Keep Windsor Secular.

Religion, Politics, and Rex Murphy

Tomorrow, the Canadian polysyllabic pontificator Rex Murphy will be in Vancouver recording a live episode of Cross Country Checkup on religion in public life..

The Checkup is a long-time Canadian radio talk show, designed to spark dialogue across the country.

To arrange my thoughts for the discussion, I sat down for a Google+ Hangout with Mavaddat and discussed some of the issues that might come up. You can watch the discussion below the fold.

Continue reading Religion, Politics, and Rex Murphy

Safe and filthy sex

I did a quick interview this morning for a country music radio station in Abbotsford, which followed up on this story that ran in Vancouver’s 24 Hours yesterday.

The story prompted the following email from a fan with an Ontario email address (a province that has recently bowed to pressure from religious conservatives to not implement a progressive and comprehensive sexual education curriculum, preferring ignorance to information).

Mr Bushfield. I just read on the internet that you think children in schools should not be taught abstinence and instead be taught safe sex.

Are you kidding me? It is people like you who are ruining our children. Please Please Please, leave our children alone, so they can grow up normal and not filled with all this filth.

I will pray for you.

I already posted this on my Facebook, where it received 44 Likes and 31 comments. Apparently people love the irony of filthy safe sex and someone praying for me.

Who’s in jail in Canada?

A report came out today on CBC that the federal government is taking a page from the PQ book of secularism and will be removing funding from all chaplains in prisons… except Christian ones.

But rather than focus on the obvious affront to the separation of Church and State, I want to focus on the numbers shared in the CBC article.
Continue reading Who’s in jail in Canada?

Religion isn’t the problem

I’ve been toying around an idea in my head for a few days or weeks now and I want to flesh it out here, so bear with me.

The New Atheism is generally focused on the idea that religion is the root of all evil or religion poisons everything. It’s defined by it’s take-no-prisoners approach to religion as one of the largest sources of pain, suffering, and intellectual stagnation of the human species.

It occurs to me though that this approach may be wrong.

Not wrong in the religion is actually a good thing kind of way, but wrong in the these statements are vacuous kind of way. Let me explain.

Religion is a really poorly defined concept. It has an academic definition from sociologist Durkheim: “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred thing” and a colloquial definition “belief in, or the worship of, a god or gods.” The New Atheism is squarely aimed at the latter definition, but it’s very disingenuous to argue that it is the only or even the correct definition.

One only needs to consider Buddhism and the rational religions of the 18th century to question the idea that religion requires a belief in the supernatural.

Declaring religion is the root of all evil makes as much sense as saying politics is the root of all evil. It doesn’t actually make any sense. There are good politics and toxic politics.

What I would argue is that we need to focus our debate not on religion, but on irrational dogma and authoritarian ideologies.

The problem with religion is that far too many of them promote dangerous beliefs. The beliefs are the issue, religion is merely one conduit for these ideas.

Expanding our criticism lets us tackle issues like Communism, Fascism, Apartheid, and Libertarianism. Each comes with unquestionable core beliefs, and each can be responsible for great suffering.

Prayers in Peterborough go to court

Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass has taken her opposition with the Peterborough city council’s practice of reciting Christian prayers to court.

Her lawyer, Dan Mayo, is a Humanist Officiant and is active in the Humanist Association of Ottawa.

A woman is taking the City of Peterborough to court over the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer to open council meetings.

Veronica Abbass is hoping the City will decide to stop using the prayer now but if it does not, she is willing to take the case before a judge.

The City now has 30 days to respond, says her lawyer, Daniel Mayo.

Mr. Mayo explains the City was warned twice that the use of the Lord’s Prayer goes against Ontario law — the first time in a letter from Ms Abbass, the second time in a letter from Mr. Mayo on her behalf.

“It’s an explicitly Christian prayer…it’s straight from the Gospels,” Mr. Mayo says.

Good work Veronica!

Additional details can be read on this Peterborough Examiner article.