Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.

Blasphemy laws get used for political purposes

Editor's note: While Canada's latent blasphemy law isn't explicitly mentioned in this article, we must continue to fight for it's repeal as these stories highlight how, under the right political climate, it could be used to censor opposition.

By Rafiqa Qurrata A'yunUniversity of Indonesia

The Indonesian police recently named the Chinese-Indonesian and Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, also known as Ahok, a suspect in a blasphemy case. This came after Muslim groups, which accuse Purnama of “insulting Islam”, staged an enormous street protest (and warned that they plan another).

President Joko Widodo stepped in and ordered the police to quickly investigate the allegation against Purnama, who is running for re-election in next year’s Jakarta gubernatorial election.

Muslim groups had reported Purnama for alleged blasphemy after a video went viral showing Purnama criticizing his political opponents who tried to dissuade people for voting for him by referencing a verse in the Koran.

Around one-quarter of the world’s countries, both in developing and developed economies, have anti-blasphemy laws. But these laws punishing speech or actions seen to be contemptuous of religion are highly controversial.

The implementation and application of these laws is politicized and prone to be influenced by public pressure. Purnama’s blasphemy investigation is a clear example.

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The seeds of the alt-right

By George MichaelWestfield State University

In recent months, far-right activists – which some have labelled the “alt-right” – have gone from being an obscure, largely online subculture to a player at the very centre of American politics.

Long relegated to the cultural and political fringe, alt-right activists were among the most enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. Earlier this year, executive Steve Bannon had declared the website “the platform for the alt-right.” By August, Bannon was appointed the CEO of the Trump campaign. In the wake of Trump’s victory, he’ll be joining Trump in the White House as a senior advisor.

I’ve spent years extensively researching the American far right, and the movement seems more energized than ever. To its critics, the alt-right is just a code term for white nationalism, a much-maligned ideology associated with neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The movement, however, is more nuanced, encompassing a much broader spectrum of right-wing activists and intellectuals.

How did the movement gain traction in recent years? And now that Trump has won, could the alt-right change the American political landscape?

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Nov 28, 2016 Newsletter

We wrote last week about the CRA's ongoing consultation into charities political status and it's something that's important enough that we want to highlight it once again.

Please take a moment and read through the response we've just published and if you feel strongly about these issues, then please write to the CRA as well.

To respond to the consultation email by December 14, 2016 or use the send-a-letter tool at Feel free to use elements of our submission in your response.

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Nov 21, 2016 Newsletter

For decades, Canadian charities have given voice to concerns of Canadians who want social progress, better health and a clean and safe environment. From laws banning smoking in public places and the creation of anti-drinking and driving laws, to reducing acid rain, these important measures and more were a result of charities voicing Canadians’ concerns.

But the rules around what charities can and cannot do are open to abuse due to ambiguous guidelines. This ambiguity led to the launch of harassing and costly audits of charities. If the laws aren’t changed, this could happen again.

What this means for us is that, according to the CRA, we must censor comments on our blog and Facebook page by our supporters that could be construed as partisan.

This isn't just about our freedom of speech, it's about yours.


You can help! Take action here.

Tell the federal government to keep its promise of creating a new law to protect your right to be heard through the charities you support.

The Minister of National Revenue is reviewing the rules under which charities can speak out in Canadian society. And the Minister wants to hear from you! But you only have until December 14th to make your voice heard.

Tell the federal government a new law is needed to give citizens a voice through charities they support and to enable charities to continue critical public policy work on issues that impact Canadians.

Doing so will ensure Canadians like you continue to have an avenue for voicing your concerns on issues that impact your daily life.

Will you stand with us and ask for a better and more just Canada?

Send a letter now

We're working on our own submission now, which will also challenge the fact that the CRA continues to privilege religion by relying on a 17th century definitions of charity that assumes the promotion of theistic religions benefits society.

For more about these issues, listen to our podcast.

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On First Nations ceremonies in BC classrooms

The BC Humanist Association affirms that in a secular country like Canada, the state has a clear duty of religious neutrality, meaning it must neither endorse nor prohibit any belief or non-belief.

As part of our Secular Schools campaign, we have fought against the distribution of Gideon Bibles in public schools as it suggests a state endorsement of a religious belief and discriminates against those who do not share that belief. Similarly, we’ve supported our allies in Alberta and Saskatchewan who are fighting to end the practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which still happens in some public schools in those provinces.

At the same time, I’ve spoken in support of the importance of teaching about religious and secular worldviews in an objective way, as is mandatory in the Quebec curriculum. Our own polling has found strong support for the idea of teaching about religion and strong opposition to encouraging students to practice a specific religion.

Our ultimate aim is that individuals – particularly vulnerable children – should be able to practice any religion or none, free from coercion.

So naturally, we were concerned when we learned that a Port Alberni mother claimed her child was forced to participate in an indigenous spiritual ceremony at school and that she has since sued the district over it.

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How fundamentalists leverage hate spin

Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 23, 2016 on The Conversation but it's points about the power of hate speech and hate spin are more relevant than ever.

The curious power of hate propaganda in open societies

Cherian GeorgeHong Kong Baptist University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

When George Orwell contemplated trends toward tyranny in 1984, he saw a world where truths were violently obliterated to leave Big Brother’s lies unchallenged. This negation of knowledge and erasure of human experience, he mused, was:

… more terrifying than mere torture or death.

But something curious has happened in the post-totalitarian world, which even Orwell’s penetrating gaze did not foresee.

Today, demagogues don’t actually need to silence or censor their opponents. It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

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Nov 14, 2016 Newsletter

I don't have much more insightful analysis to add to the mountains of commentary on the results of the US Presidential Election.

What I will say is that it concluded the way it was run, with our core Humanist values - reason, compassion and hope - being set aside in favour of hatred, anger and despair. Dark days are ahead.

I'd encourage you to read what Humanist groups across the USA have said about their commitment to work together for justice, peace and the values of equality and human dignity.

We must be similarly vigilant here in Canada and in BC because it's folly to think that we are immune or above the racial resentments and the willingness to permit casual and egregious misogyny and bigotry that allowed it to come to this.

And I have to ask one more time for you to set up a regular donation if you haven't already so we're ready and able to keep fighting.

~Ian Bushfield, Executive Director

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Ignorance won. Can we return to reason?

The following article was first published on the day after the US Presidential Election at The Huffington Post and then on It was written by Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist.

The time is past due for progressive America to rethink its strategies. As the number of secular freethinkers has risen, they, along with people of colour, supporters of the LGBTQ community, and other progressive people declared victory far in advance of realizing it. As we projected the “end of white Christian America,” there was a sense that the final waves of backwards thinking were crashing once and for all. But those who went to sleep last night hoping for the best awakened to a very different reality.

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Nov 7, 2016 Newsletter

Last week, the BC Court of Appeal released its decision on Trinity Western University vs Law Society of BC.

We intervened in this case to argue that the court should take a skeptical look at what limits should be put on freedom of religion and to consider the rights of the non-Evangelical students who choose to study at TWU. We had hoped the justices would engage with our arguments; unfortunately, they chose not to.

Instead, the decision uncritically adopts the arguments of TWU and its intervenors and allows "religious freedom" to be used as an excuse to trample on human rights.

Encouragingly though, some of those students are starting to speak up.

The TWU student newspaper published comments from 14 TWU alumni on what it was like to be queer at the school.

"[TWU] was without a doubt one of the loneliest, hopeless and self-deprecating periods of my life. It was pure, terrifying isolation.”

Another alum published a longer version of one of those accounts, as well as her own story and an argument for TWU to change its Covenant.

CKNW journalist Shelby Thom spoke about their stories on the air. She went farther challenging TWU's spokesperson who claims that TWU is a "safe, welcoming place" for LGBTQ students by directly pointing to these stories. She also published an article highlighting TWU's hypocrisy in shutting down conversations on its Facebook page.

This growing backlash, in addition to the Ontario Court of Appeal's ruling that upheld equality rights, shows that this this latest decision will not be the last word.

We're looking forward to continuing the fight at the Supreme Court of Canada.

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No, men and women's brains aren't that different

How 'neurosexism' is holding back gender equality – and science itself

By Gina Rippon, Aston University

People looking for proof that men and women learn, speak, solve problems or read maps differently often think brain scanners are the ultimate answer. And it’s easy to see why. Whether you want to advocate separate schools for girls and boys or sex-segregated training of our armed forces, you can be sure to find brightly colour-coded maps highlighting differences between males and females in various brain areas – potentially backing up your argument.

The power of “neuro” has been firmly harnessed in the ongoing debate about the differences between men and women. Enthusiastic references to “cutting edge neuroscience” are constantly used by people making assumptions about sex differences – ranging from marketers to politicians and pressure groups.

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