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.

Support campus secularism

The Secular Student Alliance helped the UAAA from our first day. The first year we set up and club’s fair we had a huge box of stickers, wristbands and business cards from them.

If they get just $7500 in donations by December 21st, they will have reached their $50,000 donation goal and Todd Stiefel will match with an additional $50,000 for campus secularism.

It’s clear that the other religious groups can raise the money – Campus for Christ runs multimillion dollar budgets and Ray Comfort is printing his tainted Origin of Species editions like there’s no tomorrow.

So donate or join now.

RIP Gilbert Bouchard

Gilbert Bouchard, who I knew as a local Unitarian and Edmonton Journal writer, had been missing for a few weeks after being depressed, and now his body has turned up in the North Saskatchewan River.

Gilbert wrote the first article about the UofA Atheists and Agnostics for the Edmonton Journal’s online “Ed” magazine, which quickly became one of their most lively discussions and was subsequently published in the print Journal.

Gilbert touched many lives in Edmonton, as witnessed by the over 700 members who’ve joined the memorial Facebook group dedicated to him.

Services honouring his life will take place at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton in the near future.

Gilbert will be missed by all who knew him.

I made it through Expelled…

So I made it through Campus Adventist’s screening of Expelled and the ensuing discussion (moderated by their non-student adviser, more on her later). First my thoughts: Most of what’s already been said about the movie by the reviewers is true. However, I will say that I didn’t find it boring, yet it wasn’t more than I expected. The only surprise I got was that they tied Planned Parenthood (and therefore abortion and contraceptives) to the eugenics movement, because giving condoms to poor people is clearly not an effort to help, but an effort to prevent them from having any children ever. They also added euthanasia to the evils of Darwinism-inspired eugenics arguments. I will say this: It is a dangerous movie. Not dangerous like it exposes some secret conspiracy, but dangerous like loose change or Zeitgeist is. It’s dangerous in that it gives a little information (i.e. not the whole story) and a lot of gusto. Remember the saying: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?” While to the uninformed who may watch this movie, it is horribly deceptive, dishonest, and worst of all, likely effective. But let’s get back to the hosts of this event. Campus Advent. While their group seems fairly fresh to campus, they seem to have big plans for next year, including many speakers (some creationists?) and perhaps a screening of Jesus Camp (which I like). What always worries me with groups like these is the external influence. Campus for Christ has a paid staff member (non-student) in most cities overseeing their local campus group(s), and now so does Campus Advent (there may be others I’m unaware of like Campus Pro-Life and Campus Alpha that are similar). While I can understand and appreciate the difficulties of keeping a student group going, it doesn’t seem quite right to me that a group like this should be started from the outside and pushed into campus. Nevertheless, there was definitely an interesting discussion that occurred after the screening. There were about 30 people total in the audience (maybe a few more by the end) with around 1/3 being atheists I knew (and Dr. Lamoureux the “evolutionary creationist”), and when it came to moderated question-period, we ended up getting most of the points in. I realized quite quickly though that everything we said went right past the moderator, and everyone ended up speaking past each other. My favourite quotes from her include:

  • Trying to call science a religion (setting up an equal time argument almost)
  • Mentioning she doesn’t fully support evolution because of the bacterial flagellum
  • How, when I asked what questions the ID proponents in Expelled weren’t allowed to ask, the only response I got was either abiogenesis (which is being studied, but apparently not fast enough) or the fact that high school teachers in the USA are being fired for discussing alternate definitions of a scientific theory, since apparently that is up for debate.  While I did actually ask she was implying that in high schools science students didn’t learn about the word theory, she more meant that teachers couldn’t get wishy-washy about theories.
  • When Dr. Lamoureux was preaching the good word of evolution, she cut in and said “what about the Cambrian Explosion?” And Denis just shot back “What about it!?” and then explained how the “explosion” was 10 million years long and is not that unusual. She sort of backtracked part way through once she realised what she’d unleashed.
  • Finally, how she continually dodged the fact ID people have no evidence in favour of pushing forward the argument of Expelled that there is a “wall” preventing exploration of ID ideas (which again, no one presented anything about).

My only response after this engagement was merely “so many creationists…so many creationists…” It looks like Alberta and its University have a few more challenges ahead of it.

Ignorant movie night at the UofA!

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“I love this film” – Ben Stein (also the star)

That’s right, on Thursday, April 2, Campus Advent (the 7th Day Adventists) are showcasing Ben Stein’s Expelled at the University of Alberta.

Yep, a church who’s claim to fame is that Saturday is more holy than Sunday is showcasing a movie that equates Dawin with Hitler.

I’ll be there, hopefully with a summary of the Expelled Exposed website on a handy pamphlet for all who are interested.

Letter sent

Sometimes you have to call out a newspaper on bad reporting.

Earlier today I posted my amazement that the Edmonton Journal would write such a poorly researched article on the atheist bus campaign’s work in Edmonton (which is virtually nothing at this point). Already, on their site a few comments have taken the paper to task:
Continue reading Letter sent

You call that journalism?

Edmonton Journal FAIL

You don’t even need to know the back story of this article to realize how shotty this journalism is. All we need to do is actually read it and see what the journalist is trying to do:

Free speech at stake: group

Edmonton Transit won’t carry ads by atheist organization

An atheist group running bus ads that declare there probably isn’t a God says Edmonton Transit is blocking free speech because it doesn’t want to carry their messages.

No “atheist group” says that in the entire article anywhere.

“The request has just gone to them, but (based on) earlier discussions with them, I don’t think this would go … on our property,” [ETS business development director Pat Waisman] said.

“We did talk [to Pattison Outdoors, the company that runs advertisements in Edmonton] and they said, ‘We sell products, not personal opinion.’

“We said, ‘Yes, we continue to support you in your decision.’ “

Well that’s hearsay. Let’s actually go to Pattison to see what they said:

Brian de Ruiter, Pattison’s vice-president and general manager for the Western region, said Friday the group hasn’t asked to put up ads in Edmonton.

In principle, he doesn’t object to campaigns in which enough space is purchased — probably at least $8,000 to $15,000 worth — to make them legitimate, but said many advocacy groups try to spend a minimum amount in hopes of attracting media coverage.

This sort of controversy can swamp his office with hundreds of calls and e-mails, and isn’t worth the disruption, he said.

“For us, the first thing is, is it advocacy or is it advertising?

“Are we being taken advantage of with the goal of creating a media stunt?” [emphasis added]

So Pattison “doesn’t object” to the ads, but someone made a quick statement at ETS saying what they thought Pattison’s position was – and this constitutes a story?

I’m glad they cut my interview from this tripe.

The journalist then grabs some quotes from Justin Trottier (who heads the Freethought Association of Canada and the Atheist Bus Campaign) and councillor Ben Henderson. Both argue that it’s a free speech issue, Henderson suggests a look at all the city’s policies as he’s received complaints about the rampant “anti-abortion” (the words the Journal uses) ads in the city.

So it seems to me that all we have here is a reporter who’s trying to make a story appear out of thin air. It must be a slow news day.

Well, maybe atheist bus ads in Edmonton

So it wasn’t too clear to me yesterday what was going on with atheist ads in Edmonton. But I’ve figured everything out now.

Basically, the Journal reporter had heard from Pattison (who run the ads in Edmonton) that they don’t do advocacy ads for media stunts. He then called me to see if we (the UAAA) would get all angsty and protest. I told him I’d look into the issue and see what our members thought.

I guess the noncommital response didn’t warrant a story (rightly so), but I still needed to sniff around.

It turns out that Pattison’s real response is that their VP doesn’t like his company being used for media stunts. If we were to do an ad campaign in Edmonton (which is a potential now), it would have to be a real campaign. He is really opposed to the idea of running a lone cheap ad just so some group can get free media press in the local news.

So with all that sorted out, I can now difinitevely say that the “No God” ads are not banned in Edmonton, and may potentially run.

I’ve also put a vote out to the Edmonton Atheists and UAAA on which slogan they’d rather see:

Results will be in in one weeks time, and then we’ll see what will (or won’t) be seen on Edmonton transit in the near future.

Of course the ads have been banned in Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Kelowna, so those struggles continue.

No no god ads in Edmonton…

I will update more on this later, but for now it seems the Freethought Association of Canada put feelers out to see if Edmonton’s bus advertising agency (Pattison, who also manage all billboards in the city) would allow atheist bus ads.

Pattison apparently replied (as I learned from an interview I just did with the Edmonton Journal) that they don’t run ads of this sort and tend to stick to ads that sell a product.

This is garbage however, as there are countless anti-abortion ads around the city and several church ads.

As I said, I’ll write more later (likely tomorrow), and I’m going to do some recon with my camera phone tonight and see what ads I can find. Tomorrow there should be an Edmonton Journal article on this, so we’ll have a bit more investigation and quotes to use anyways (I said that we haven’t formulated a response and that I’m going to get feedback from my members first).

We had no real plans in Edmonton to run atheist ads, but with this news I’ve already found out most of my group is riled up over the double standard.

And here I thought with the convocation issue closed that we could get a bit of a break in Edmonton. I guess atheism is in the spotlight again.

(It’s also worth noting that Calgary will be running the ads in the next few months).