Weekly Update: to

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

[The first panel of the 2017-05-03 Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic Virginity, showing a father telling his daughter: You will wear this purity ring; it signifies that you will remain a virgin until marriage.]

The punchline of this one is awesome.

  • [] USCIRF Releases 2017 Annual Report

    Too many atheists think religious freedom is scam perpetrated on secular society to protect religious privilege. On the contrary, it is one of the most important and fundamental of rights – the loss of religious freedom is very often the canary in the coal mine that other important freedoms are at risk… or already lost. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is hardly free of criticism – frankly, it seems to think its mandate is to protect Christianity specifically – but its 2017 report should be generally concerning. Their conclusion is that religious freedom is being eroded all around the world, both more frequently, in more places, in to a worse degree. The poster child for that is Russia (mentioned no less than twice elsewhere in this update).

  • [] Three women could face jail over giant plastic vagina protest

    The charges are an atrocity, but if you’re going to offend religious sensibilities, you might as well do it with flair.

  • [] Is Christian evangelicals’ money helping to prop up North Korea’s regime?

    Their “clever plan” is to foster good-will toward Christianity among North Korea’s elite by setting up schools and educating them… but whether or not it’s working, the practical result of that strategy is that North Korea’s regime is handily getting educated on important practical subjects, which helps strengthen and maintain the regime.

  • [] Russian prosecutors seek 3½ years for ‘Pokemon Go’ blogger

    For those who don’t remember the case, atheist Ruslan Sokolovsky made a video of himself (in Russian) playing Pokémon Go in a famous church in Yekaterinburg because he didn’t believe claims that he could actually be charged for doing so. He was, and was facing 5 years, but he still didn’t think they’d actually go through with it. Well, he was half right; they’re “only” asking for 3 1⁄2 years.

  • [] Russia can’t tell the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and al-Qaeda

    The headline is a bit cheeky, but what it’s referring to is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been put on the same list of extremists as al-Qaida and Daesh. Before you cheer on the Russians for sticking it to a religious group, bear in mind that the reason they targeted the Witnesses isn’t because they’re religious. Remember, this is the same government that is going to put a guy in jail for playing Pokémon Go in a church. It has to do with the fact that the Witnesses have defied the various Russian authoritarian governments for around a half-century. Witnesses don’t believe in the authority of earthly governments (they refuse military service, won’t pledge allegiance, won’t sing the national anthem, etc.), so basically they wouldn’t kiss the Russian government’s ass, and this is the result of that.

  • [] Catholic schools association denies LGBT discrimination after cancelling sexual health fundraiser

    In the “totally not done for ‘reasons’™ not homophobia” department, we have this. Keep in mind, this isn’t even about anything going on within the school itself; this was an after-hours event just using the school’s facilities.

  • [] A community divided

    This is a pretty good look behind the scenes of the Peel “no religion in schools” protest groups, how they overlap and share members to make themselves look larger than they are, their ties to Hindu nationalism, and how they’re carefully massaging their message to be palatable.

  • [] Saskatchewan’s Catholic school boards to appeal ruling on funding

    It was pretty much inevitable that someone would try to appeal the ruling. Well, let them have at it; Layh’s ruling was remarkably well-reasoned, and pretty damn solid.

  • [] Senator Don Meredith Harassed, Sexually Abused Staff For Years, Say Former Aides

    This asshole has been an embarrassment to the GTA and all Caribbean-Canadians since the start. He couldn’t get his ass elected, so Harper appointed him to the Senate, which he cheerfully proceeded to use as a source of funding for his ministry, but even Harper ditched him eventually. Not because of his use of Senate money for his religious crusade, mind you, and not because of the numerous reports of what a nasty, crazy asshole he was, and not even because he didn’t even really have the doctorate he claimed to have; no, Harper dumped him because he was dating a teenager. Now we’re hearing that he made Senate staffers write his sermons, and that he used prayer as a pretext to grope. Class act.

  • [] Saskatchewan to invoke Charter’s notwithstanding clause over Catholic school funding

    Wow. Just, wow. The notwithstanding clause is arguably a mistake in the Charter; or if not a “mistake”, something that was only included for the sake of compromise. Every time it has ever been used or threatened, it has been for something stupid, discriminatory, or just plain wrong… and after the fact it’s always been a bit of an embarrassment for whoever used it. Wall has threatened to use it before, but this time he seems serious. But others have noted that this may just be about politics… as a way to distract from a terrible budget, and sinking popularity.

  • [] Edmonton Catholic school board chastises 2 trustees for ‘blatant disrespect’

    One of the trustees being punished here is Marilyn Bergstra, who has appeared in multiple Weekly Update items recently for making very sensible and sane recommendations – such as an updated sex-ed course that doesn’t compare abortion to the Holocaust, and allowing students who hadn’t completed religious class requirements to attend their graduation ceremony. You know, the best argument for the abolition of Catholic school boards may be the boards themselves.

  • [] How the alt-right weaponized free speech

    Freedom of speech is an important fundamental right, but in recent years, it has become a trend for far-right trolls to use it – or a bastardized vision of it – to shield themselves from criticism or censorship, and paint themselves as heroes and martyrs.

  • [] Defence in B.C. polygamy trial argues evidence was collected amid legal confusion

    Argh, this case is annoying. First of all, there’s the frustration that Blackmore was able to get away with shit for years – even going on TV to boast about it – because prosecutors were too afraid to press charges out of fear that the law wasn’t constitutional… rather than simply a) asking the courts if it was; or b) just trying it and letting it play out as it should. And now that they have, Blackmore may still get away with it precisely because of all the shady shit the prosecutors did during that period, rather than just doing their fucking jobs.

  • [] Tenants’ religious rights violated by Brampton landlord who refused to remove shoes

    This case has been widely misunderstood, and headlines like the above are a large part of the blame. Yes, the shoe thing was an issue, but not only was it not the only issue, it wasn’t even the main issue of contention. In reality, it was a pretty open and shut case of discrimination, by a plainly asshole landlord who even the judge called dishonest. The tenants made a very simple, very reasonable request that the landlord give them a few minutes’ notice before bringing people to view the apartment, because they might have been praying, or the wife may not have been wearing her hijab. That was it; that was all they needed. With 10–20 minutes notice, they wouldn’t have been caught in the middle of their prayers. A perfectly reasonable request, made on a ground protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code, that the landlord didn’t want to accommodate for a very stupid reason. Apparently giving a few minutes’ notice would make him a Muslim, because that was the reason he gave for not complying: to comply, he argued, would mean the tenants were forcing their religion on him. (Yes, the tenants also asked him and viewers to take off their shoes in the bedroom – their prayer space – but they offered slippers, and the viewers mostly had no problem with it… even when the landlord specifically told them to ignore the tenants’ request about how to behave in their home.)

  • [] ACTION ALERT: Health Canada Consultation

    Health Canada is asking for the public’s opinion on a policy change that may see the release of clinical trial information for any drugs or medical devices they review. This is a neat idea that would not only allow for greater transparency in the review process, it could also reduce unnecessary duplication of tests, and allow test data to be reused for other purposes.

  • [] Sask. Catholic school boards to appeal court decision, despite use of notwithstanding clause

    Well, someone was going to do it.

  • [] Niagara Catholic schools cancel touring play on gender identity

    Another item for the “totally not done for ‘reasons’™ not homophobia” department.

  • [] Faked Terrorist Attacks Are a Dangerous Development

    The most insidious thing about terrorism is not the immediate violence, it’s the aftershocks. Following a terrorist attack, the most common casualties are rights and freedoms… and then there’s this problem: opportunists taking advantage of the terror terrorism generates to enrich or empower themselves.

  • [] Andrew Coyne: Notwithstanding clause is a bottle labelled ‘drink me’ that cheapens the Charter

    An excellent editorial explaining the genesis of the notwithstanding clause, and its problems.

  • [] ‘Revolutionary’ changes to LGBT refugee claims ensures ‘sexuality is not put on trial’

    This is a really neat move forward! Up until now, when people have made refugee requests for being persecuted for being LGBT, they have been subjected to really degrading and insulting interviews that asked dumb and irrelevant questions about their sex lives. There was also risk of them being unjustly refused for bad reasons, such as having had heterosexual relationships in the past (which in no way actually undermines someone being gay). No more. These new guidelines will make for better handling of LGBT refugee claims.

  • [] Dysfunction at the United Nations: The Saudis aren’t the only ones to blame

    Last week I wrote about the absurd case of Saudi Arabia being elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. And it is absurd, but as Thomas Woodley notes in this interesting piece, people who live in glass houses should really think twice before casting stones. Canada has its own issues. Most of the crap Canada has done that Woodley mentions dates from the Harper era… but not all.

  • [] “Virginity” by Zach Weinersmith (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

    Another wickedly brilliant turnabout on religious bullshit by Weinersmith.

  • [] Genetic Non-Discrimination Act receives Royal Assent

    Despite lobbying by the insurance industry and the efforts of some Liberal colluders, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act is now law.

  • [] Scientology Centers in Tennessee Shut Down After Patients Found Imprisoned Against Their Will

    We’ve heard stories about these kinds of incidents from defectors, but it’s rare to see them caught red-handed.

    h/t Friendly Atheist

  • [] B.C. Christian University’s Homophobia Has Nothing To Do With Piety

    This is a nice editorial on the stupidity and hypocrisy of Trinity Western University’s “community covenant”, and why there shouldn’t be an obligation to accredit their law school because of it. But the most interesting part of it may be where a link is revealed between Supreme Court Justice Brown, and the group advocating for TWU.

  • [] Inclusion of 1905 act in Constitution means Brad Wall’s ‘Notwithstanding Clause’ gambit is no slam-dunk

    Ever since Brad Wall announced he was going to use the notwithstanding clause to ignore Judge Donald Layh’s ruling against funding non-Catholic students in Saskatchewan, everyone’s assumed that it was a fait accompli. But Layh may have outsmarted us all. You see, the notwithstanding clause, while enormously powerful, is also enormously limited. It can only be used to override sections 2 and 7–15 of the Charter, and only for cases the provincial or federal government that uses it actually has jurisdiction over. Granted, section 2 is fundamental rights, and 7–15 are legal rights, so that’s a big deal. But Layh didn’t just use the Charter to justify his decision… he also used the Saskatchewan Act… which, ironically, is what originally created separate schools… and which is completely untouchable by the Charter (that’s why separate schools exist even though they violate the Charter)… which means it’s also completely untouchable by the notwithstanding clause! In other words, Judge Layh really crossed his i’s and dotted his t’s on this one; Wall can’t use the notwithstanding clause to negate the Saskatchewan Act (it can only negate sections 2 or 7–15 of the Charter). He will have to risk an appeal… and there’s good reason to think this ruling will survive an appeal.

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5 thoughts on “Weekly Update: to

  1. RE: How the alt-right weaponized free speech
    I was quite taken by the paragraph near the end starting with “Where trauma”. I thought it to be an excellent and fair assessment. It helps to expose the silly hypocrisy of those of a conservative bent who point fingers and mock the “snowflakes” of the left and then turn around and be the snowflakes of the right when confronted.

  2. re:USCIRF Releases 2017 Annual Report

    Indi you say “Too many atheists think religious freedom is scam perpetrated on secular society to protect religious privilege.”

    As sort of a half time atheist, half time agnostic, I truly believe that the claim of *religious freedom* really is the scam. *Religious Freedom* and *Freedom of Belief* are two entirely different things. One exists and the other is entirely a fiction of the scammers. *Freedom of Belief* is something real that can be discussed rationally because *beliefs* actually are something real in the world, whereas *religion beliefs* are just a subsection of *beliefs*. No rational individuals object to *Freedom of Belief*, what they object to is *Freedom of Religion* as something other than just another *belief*. No *belief* should be singled out for special *privilege*, so why should *religion*. It is exactly this *distinction* of *religion* as some kind of *special* belief which leads inevitably to all of the special *privileges* that *religions* really do receive in the laws of all western countries that I know of. The law doesn’t say 1/2 or 1/3 of all *beliefs* shall enjoy these specific special privileges, no it say only *religious* beliefs will enjoy these special privileges.

    It is only this special category in law, namely *religion* (which surely must be the same as *religious beliefs*) which is treated as some special kind of beliefs (what exactly is the difference?) which means it enjoys special privileges not afforded to any other beliefs.

    For example in the US religious organization enjoy special tax advantages as they do in all other western nations as far as I know, and they are always pushing for even more. Last week Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in an effort to get religions even more special privileges over other belief systems. See the link below for the Freedom From Religion Foundation law suit over this order.
    https://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/29320-ffrf-sues-trump-over-church-politicking

    • You kinda lost me here. You say that you understand that freedom of belief is a real thing, and that religion is just a subset of belief. Okay… so if religion is a belief and freedom of belief is real… how is freedom of religion a scam? Are you saying that only certain kinds of belief deserve freedom?

      If your problem is just that religion gets a specific mention… is that really such a big deal? Yes, in a perfect world it’s *technically* unnecessary – if you say “freedom of belief” that’s already enough to cover religion – but is it really a *problem*? I mean, take the Charter. It mentions freedom of belief, and it also mentions religion unnecessarily… but it *also* mentions thought, opinion, and conscience. All of them are technically unnecessary to mention, too – they’re all covered under freedom of belief. Are they “scams” too?

      Hell, if you make the reasonable understanding that freedom of belief includes not only the freedom to *hold* a belief but also the freedom to *express* it (which is a logical thing to assume, because without freedom of expression, freedom of belief is rather meaningless in practice), then the Charter unnecessarily mentions thought, opinion, conscience, *and* expression. In a perfectly reasonable world, none of those things actually needs to be mentioned if belief is mentioned. So is it a scam to mention them?

      The way I see it is this: We don’t live in a perfectly reasonable world, and human rights instruments have been written in a way that takes that into account. Human rights instruments have to be written *very* carefully to avoid leaving loopholes that tyrants can exploit. For example, let’s say the Charter *only* said “freedom of belief” and didn’t explicitly mention thought, opinion, conscience, or religion. *Technically* a reasonable person would assume those things are covered… but an unreasonable tyrant could argue “atheism is not a belief, it’s a *lack* of a belief, and the Charter only promises freedom of *belief*, not freedom of lacking belief, so atheism doesn’t get any protections for its freedoms”. It’s a bad argument, and it wouldn’t stand if a sensible court with a lick of integrity got at it, but it *could* be used to take rights away from atheists. (And it has been, *even in Canada*! See the Erazo case. The ruling was basically that while atheism obviously isn’t a religion, it *is* a “creed”, which was enough to give it protections.)

      And in the same situation, a tyrant could argue, for example, “oh, see, these Buddhists claim that their religion is not a ‘belief’, it’s a ‘way of life’ (or ‘philosophy’)… well, the Charter only protects ‘freedom of belief’, not ‘freedom of way of life’, so… Buddhism doesn’t get any protection for its freedoms”. Again, bad argument, reasonable courts would stomp it down, but it *could* be used to take away rights from Buddhists… and similar arguments *HAVE* been used around the world. (In fact, today you will *frequently* see islamophobes trying to argue that Islam isn’t a religion, it’s a “political system (or political philosophy)”, and thus doesn’t deserve the protections religion gets. That argument is dead wrong, on every level, but you will hear it made from time to time.)

      So the people who wrote the Charter didn’t just throw all those words in there for shits and giggles. They’re there because tyrants can, have, and *will* search for loopholes to avoid extending protections to beliefs they don’t agree with. They are an attempt to close off loopholes. That’s not a scam. That’s a carefully-planned safety mechanism to protect the rights that people deserve.

      Another thing I should mention: freedom of religion is usually considered separately from freedom of belief because it is a very special case of belief. Take a look at the Charter and you’ll see what I mean: it puts “conscience and religion” in §2(a) and then “thought, belief, opinion, and expression” *separately* in §2(b). (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes a roughly similar separation into §18 and §19) This separation is not an accident, and it is not – as you appear to believe – about “privileging” religion.

      What’s going on here is there are many beliefs and opinions that people hold that they feel strongly about, and even that they will fight for, and they certainly have a protected right to those beliefs. But then there a small set of beliefs that some people hold that are not like most of their beliefs; they are a set of beliefs that are so important, and so fundamental to that person, that they would *literally* *DIE* for them. For example, most people believe killing another human is wrong… but there are some people who feel so *STRONGLY* about not killing other people that they would be willing to go to jail or even be executed as a traitor rather than be drafted as soldiers in a war. §2(a) is about those *special* beliefs, beliefs that are *so* strong, breaking them is simply beyond any consideration in any case. §2(b) is about *normal* beliefs; beliefs we hold, but if push *really* came to shove we’d grit our teeth and be “practical”. Both types deserve protection… but the first type deserves *special* attention and respect – a court should be wary of ruling against a §2(b) belief, but should be *EXTREMELY* unwilling to rule against a §2(a) belief. Now, not all religious beliefs are of the §2(a) type… but some are! That’s why religion is usually pulled out as a special case, along with non-religious “conscience”. Again, not a scam. Just a recognition that some religious beliefs (along with some non-religious ones!) are *very* deeply held.

      So:

      1) I don’t get the logic of calling freedom of religion a scam when you think freedom of belief is legit, and religion is a belief. Even saying nothing else, that alone should be enough to mark freedom of religion as a legitimate right.

      2) There is a very good reason for specifically mentioning religion even though it is *technically* covered by “belief”. Human rights instruments must be ironclad, with no wiggle room and no loopholes. Specifically naming religion as a type of protected belief is just a way to prevent unscrupulous people from denying protections to religions using weaselly language about how this or that religion isn’t (or isn’t *just*) a “belief”. Religion *SHOULD* be mentioned in any human rights instrument, along with every other type of belief one can think of: thought, opinion, way of life, philosophy, etc.. The more that are mentioned, the better; it just makes it harder to take rights away.

      3) Freedom of religion will almost always get a special mention because it *is* special. There are beliefs that people just hold that may be reconsidered on new evidence or set aside in certain contingencies… and then there are beliefs that are so intrinsic to who they are that they will literally die – or at least suffer horribly – rather than violate them. These are not always religious beliefs… but very frequently they are. That’s why freedom of religion is usually called out specifically (along with non-religious “conscience”).

      Now, one more thing I should mention: You also seemed concerned about religion getting special privileges – for example, that Trump order.

      (Though, I should mention: That Trump order actually *doesn’t* give religions any special privileges. According to the law, churches should *still* be taxed if they take political sides. All Trump’s order does is tell the IRS to *ignore* this law, and instead focus on other tax offenders. It doesn’t *repeal* the law, or change any laws. It just tells the IRS how to do its job. In other words, it’s still illegal for churches to stump for politicians, but if the IRS catches you doing it, they won’t press charges. That’s all Trump’s order does… but here’s the really dumb part: THE IRS WAS ALREADY DOING THAT! The IRS has been ignoring churches violating that law for years, and American atheists have always been pissed off about it. So Trump’s order literally changes nothing except that it gives official blessing to something the IRS was already doing (that they shouldn’t be, and that’s why some atheist groups are up in arms about it – the practice was wrong even before Trump blessed it, and now it’s being given official sanction). It’s classic Trump: a waste of everyone’s fucking time; complete bullshit, totally impotent, yet somehow still infuriating.)

      So you have a problem with religions or religion in general getting special privileges. Fine, but that has literally *NOTHING* to do with freedom of religion. *Freedom* of religion has *NOTHING* to do with *privileges* for religion. DO NOT CONFUSE “FREEDOM” WITH “PRIVILEGE”. Everyone in Canada has freedom; not everyone has privilege. Every belief is protected in Canada by §2 of the Charter, *none* are given any *privilege* by it. Maybe there are other laws that give religion privilege (well, there *are* laws that do, certainly, and they’re a problem)… but that has *NOTHING* to do with freedom of religion.

      (Even in the Trump case, he’s not changing the Constitutional right of freedom of religion in any way. He’s not touching the Constitution at all. Religions have no more or less freedom thanks to him. All they have is a special privilege (which they already had! he didn’t even give them that much!). He gave religions more privilege (not really, but whatever), he didn’t give them more freedom.)

      Yes, religious privilege is a problem, and we should fight it. But DO NOT… CONFUSE… PRIVILEGE… WITH FREEDOM. We do *not* want to take away religious freedom. We *do* want to take away religious privilege, but if you think that has *anything* to do with religious *freedom*… you are *way* on the wrong page here.

      • In law words are of critical importance. In a document such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is supposed to be not just a law but much more than that, a overall guiding principle of the law, the words are especially important. In my estimation it is exactly the criminal element in our society, the scammers if you will, who did get this phrase ‘Freedom of Religion’ in this most important document.

        I would classify *religion* as a unique system of *beliefs*, exactly like Science or the Arts or the Humanities are unique systems of belief. In universities Theology is the study of the systems of belief called *religions*. It is exactly the attempt to equate *religion* in the same breath with *thought*, *consciousness* and *beliefs* which is the criminal act. Just as there are many subsets of Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology), or the Arts (Painting, Sculpture, Photography), there are many subsets of Religion(Christianity, Hinduism, Islam). I have no objection to equating *religion* with Science or Humanities or Arts because it is just a unique system of belief just the same as they are. What I object to is equating it with words which have an entirely different meaning which is exactly what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does do.

        The wrongful use of this word *religion*, just like the wrongful use of the word *God*, is everywhere in our legal system and to a large extent is what is wrong with that system. For example our law in regards to taxing of charities is based on 19th century English law which gives the categories which qualify as follows:
        •purposes for the relief of poverty

        •purposes for the advancement of education

        •purposes for the advancement of religion

        •other purposes beneficial to the community in a way the law regards as charitable 9

        You will notice this does not say and ‘purposes for the advancement of Science’ and ‘purposes for the advancement of the Humanities’ and ‘purposes for the advancement of the Arts’. Why not?

        It is true that people sometimes do say for instance “Mathematics is my religion” or ” Science is my religion” to mean that it is my *most strongly held belief*. However, this is said in a mocking or a joking way, not in a serious way. I don’t think allowing the ‘Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ to mock and joke about things is in any way appropriate. I’ve already said before that I think this document is a very bad joke because of sticking God in it. The improper usage of the word *religion* in this critical context just reinforces my disgust with this terrible criminal legalizing and empowering document.

  3. •[28-Apr-2017] Russia can’t tell the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and al-Qaeda

    Indi you say “Witnesses don’t believe in the authority of earthly governments (they refuse military service, won’t pledge allegiance, won’t sing the national anthem, etc.), so basically they wouldn’t kiss the Russian government’s ass, and this is the result of that.”

    Not that I favour the current Russian government since their constitution allows *freedom of religion* as something distinct from *freedom of conscience*, however, in this case I certainly think they are more on the right track. I know from watching YouTube videos that Putin is a devout Christian, therefore, in my books completely untrustworthy, and hence also the Russian people who put him there.

    All these criminal groups that get themselves defined legally as *religions* usually demand and usually get special legal privileges. If they don’t get what they demand, for instance freedom from paying taxes or freedom from being accountable to anyone or as in this case freedom from military service to the state (the ultimate price really), they simply refuse to cooperate and break the law. Why on earth should the laws that apply to me and everyone else in our society suddenly for no rational reason not apply to religious people? Because they like the word *religion* and like saying it as often as they can? I can’t say I blame them, it really seems to be the MAGIC word, just say *religion* and your wish, no matter how ridiculous will instantly be granted.

    I congratulate the Russian government in this case, I just wish our government had the guts to do the same, because I for one can’t tell the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and al-Qaeda either, or for that matter any of the many other religious criminal gangs.

    Since when does going against the grain and spouting ridiculous nonsense warrant special (not treatment, whatever that really means) privilege. It seems to me forever, when are rational people going to stop confusing treatment with privilege were this religious nonsense is concerned. Treat it like the criminal mental illness it really is and get these crooks off our streets once and for all.

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