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City of Victoria proclaims International Blasphemy Rights Day

At its council meeting yesterday, the City of Victoria agreed 3-2 to proclaim September 30, 2016 as International Blasphemy Rights Day.

The BC Humanist Association requested the proclamation as part of its support for freedom of expression; however, the council did amend the proclamation to remove a section challenging the constitutionality of the Criminal Code prohibition on blasphemous libel.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

Nearly every week, from around the world we hear about another person sentenced to jail or even death for writing or saying something that someone considers blasphemous. Proclamations, like this one from the City of Victoria, are an invaluable way to send a message that Canadians are willing to stand behind the right to freedom of speech and the council should be commended for their courage. However, the fact that councillors had to debate this proclamation goes to show just how controversial free speech can be.

The Government of BC rejected a similar proclamation request, citing the fact the Criminal Code was under federal jurisdiction.

In June, the BC Humanist Association helped launch an official e-petition calling on the federal government to repeal Canada’s prohibition on blasphemous libel. Since then, the petition has received over 4600 signatures, including nearly 1000 from British Columbians. The petition closes for signatures on October 20, at which point the government will have 45 days to provide an official response.

International Blasphemy Rights Day is held every September 30 to commemorate the publishing of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, which resulted in some religious believers around the world expressing their disapproval with violent protests, riots and in some cases, murder. The day was started in 2009 by the US Center for Inquiry as part of its Campaign for Free Expression.

The full proclamation is below. The deleted section of the proclamation said:

Section 296 of Canada’s Criminal Code (blasphemous libel), though latent, violates the fundamental rights of citizens with opinions different than that of the majority;

Watch the council meeting (debate starts at 10:00)

Sign the e-petition.

Read 10 years of speaking out against Canada's blasphemy law.

Banner image: Councillor Ben Isitt speaks in favour of proclaiming International Blasphemy Rights Day.

Lessons in secularism from a human rights complaint against Bowen Island Montessori

Our education system is tasked with preparing the next generation for life in an increasingly pluralistic country. That system must be accommodating and welcoming to students of all faiths and none, or we risk segmenting our society and allowing extremism to foment.

Bowen Island Montessori School is facing a human rights complaint for demanding a couple sign a letter indicating their full acceptance of the school’s cultural programing before their daughter would be permitted to attend. The couple argues they were the only ones required to sign such a letter in order to register their child after they raised concerns about the school’s focus on Christian celebrations and other aspects of the curriculum that conflicted with their secular, non-materialist and pacifist views. The complaint will be heard in mid-2017.

While human rights law in Canada generally exempts religious organizations (a separate question), this school describes itself as non-denominational or secular. Specifically, it says its approach is to have “no distinction of culture.”

But secularism requires neutrality. A secular organization can no more suppress the views of religious students as it can push a Christian worldview.

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Sep 12, 2016 Newsletter

Last week, we shared our letter to BC's Minister of Education asking if he'd stand up for LGBTQ rights in BC schools.

On Thursday we got our answer: All public and independent schools will be required to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies.

This is a good first sign but we'll have to see the details to know whether the rights of LGBTQ students will be upheld.

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Does climate change mean we need to have fewer children?

By Travis N. Rieder, Johns Hopkins University

Earlier this summer, I found myself in the middle of a lively debate because of my work on climate change and the ethics of having children.

NPR correspondent Jennifer Ludden profiled some of my work in procreative ethics with an article entitled, “Should we be having kids in the age of climate change?,” which summarized my published views that we ought to consider adopting a “small family ethic” and even pursuing fertility reduction efforts in response to the threat from climate change. Although environmentalists for decades have worried about overpopulation for many good reasons, I suggest the fast-upcoming thresholds in climate change provide uniquely powerful reasons to consider taking real action to slow population growth.

Clearly, this idea struck a nerve: I was overwhelmed by the response in my personal email inbox as well as op-eds in other media outlets and over 70,000 shares on Facebook. I am gratified that so many people took the time to read and reflect on the piece.

Having read and digested that discussion, I want to continue it by responding to some of the most vocal criticisms of my own work, which includes research on “population engineering” – the intentional manipulation of human population size and structure – I’ve done with my colleagues, Jake Earl and Colin Hickey.

In short, the varied arguments against my views – that I’m overreacting, that the economy will tank and others – haven’t changed my conviction that we need to discuss the ethics of having children in this era of climate change.

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CBC investigation finds majority of BC rehab clinics use 12 step model

In a report for CBC News, journalists Yvette Brend and Manjula Dufresne document their findings from calling every drug rehabilitation facility in British Columbia.

They found:

Many more — in fact the majority that we spoke to — adhere to AA or 12-step regimes, and resist harm reduction as a waste of time. They insist it's all nonsense, despite compelling science.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program are religious programs that require submission to a higher power. A thorough review of all available clinical studies found no evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The journalists also found that wait times, quality and range of service vary widely between centres. Some centres were even said to offer "no real programs, rules or concern" and were only interested in payment. There are few government standards and no central list of approved facilities.

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BC Government to require all schools to protect LGBTQ students

Echoing calls by the BC Humanist Association last week, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced yesterday that all public and independent schools in BC will have to make explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies.

Districts have been given until the end of the year to update their policies and the ARC Foundation has committed to funding a new advisor position to support more inclusive policies at all schools.

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Sep 6, 2016 Newsletter

Students across BC go back to school today. But unfortunately for too many LGBTQ students that means returning to face bullying and harassment.

The good news is that a growing number of public school districts have introduced policies to combat homophobia and transphobia in the classroom. However, there is no province-wide requirement to introduce such a policy and in many of the province's religious independent schools there are no such protections. This is despite the fact the majority of those schools receive significant public funding.

It could be better.

The Government of Alberta is currently reviewing policies by every school in the province to ensure LGBTQ students are protected. This has lead to the Minister threatening to cut funding to two private religious schools that refuse to comply with the law.

Last week we wrote to BC's Minister of Education to ask whether he will similarly act to defend queer students across BC. And we will continue to oppose public funds going to support religious based bigotry.

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Climate change is threatening national parks

By Patrick GonzalezNational Park Service

Trees are dying across Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. Glaciers are melting in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Corals are bleaching in Virgin Islands National Park. Published field research conducted in US national parks has detected these changes and shown that human climate change – carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and other human activities – is the cause.

As principal climate change scientist of the US National Park Service, I conduct research on how climate change has already altered the national parks and could further change them in the future. I also analyze how ecosystems in the national parks can naturally reduce climate change by storing carbon. I then help national park staff to use the scientific results to adjust management actions for potential future conditions.

Research in US national parks contributes in important ways to global scientific understanding of climate change. National parks are unique places where it is easier to tell if human climate change is the main cause of changes that we observe in the field, because many parks have been protected from urbanization, timber harvesting, grazing and other non-climate factors. The results of this research highlight how urgently we need to reduce carbon pollution to protect the future of the national parks.

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Questioning the 'miracles' of Saint Teresa

By Philip AlmondThe University of Queensland

In 2002, the Vatican officially recognized as a miracle the healing of an Indian woman’s cancer of the abdomen. This occurred as the result of the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa’s picture. The woman, Monica Besra, said a beam of light had emanated from the picture, curing her cancerous tumour.

This one miracle was sufficient for Mother Teresa to be beatified in 2003. This meant that she had the title “Blessed” bestowed on her and that she was, from then on, able to intercede with God on behalf of individuals who prayed in her name. The late Christopher Hitchens (who had written a pretty scathing book about her) had been called upon by the Vatican to act as “the Devil’s advocate” and to give evidence against her character. Hitchen’s criticisms made no difference (which was not really a surprise to anyone).

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Will BC stand up for LGBTQ rights in religious schools?

Update (Sep 8, 2016): The Minister of Education has announced that all public and independent BC schools will now have to include specific protections for LGBTQ students in anti-bullying policies.

The BC Humanist Association wrote to BC's Minister of Education today to ask whether BC's government is willing to show a commitment to LGBTQ equality in BC schools.

In Alberta, the government is putting more and more pressure on public and private school boards to adopt policies to uphold the rights of LGBTQ students in the classroom.

A pastor who chairs two Baptist private schools in Alberta is refusing to follow a ministerial order that requires all schools to have a policy explicitly protecting LGBTQ students and staff. Instead the schools claim to have a "zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy" based on Christian principles.

The schools, like many private schools in Alberta and BC, receive significant funding from the provincial government.

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