Good news yesterday for those who support the right of Canadians to die with dignity.
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There is an ongoing debate in the wider, online, Freethought/secular/skeptic community.

While I don’t want to rehash the specifics, name names, or argue the semantics, it does highlight what I consider to be a divide between humanism and mere atheism.

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Featured Faith

While Humanism doesn’t technically qualify as a faith (i.e. a belief based on no evidence or in spite of the evidence), the BC Humanist Association was featured in yesterday’s edition of The Province on their Sunday Faith feature.

The full article is available on The Province’s website and is copied below.

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I want to encourage you to read some of the words of local skeptic and activist, Jamie James, who has posted some experiences with sexism and racism in Vancouver.

Jamie is routinely on the frontline for LGBTQ and women’s rights in Vancouver. From confrontations with pro-lifers to challenging racism within the feminist and freethought communities, Jamie consistently challenges the status quo and is worth the read, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the specific tactics (which can be quite provocative).

In the blog, Jamie relates a couple stories. First, comes a discussion of the annual SlutWalk and East Side Pride that occurred last weekend. A number of writers, including Jamie, have expressed their disappointment that the organizers have retained the word “Slut” which they feel is racially-charged and offers no space for women of colour. Meanwhile, Jamie was unfortunately too ill to participate in East Side Pride, which commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that historically marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. The post goes on to discuss some misogynist comments that Jamie has received while protesting topless, as well as some interactions with pro-lifers before discussing a few racist comments.

In the firebrand/diplomat debate, Jamie falls squarely in the confrontationalist camp, which fulfils and important role in shifting the Overton window of our public debate.

In my view of humanism, compassion and a desire to minimize harm serve as human moral foundations.

It is for this reason, I consider Gloria Taylor and the BC Civil Liberties Association’s victory in the BC Supreme Court to be a profoundly good thing. The ruling strikes down a ban on doctor-assisted dying.

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This past weekend, around 250 atheists, agnostics, humanists, heretics, freethinkers, and apostates gathered at the Kamloops Convention Centre for more than 2 days of heresy and community building. The entire event was a rousing success, thanks to the tireless efforts of Bill and Kathy Ligertwood of the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought.

I’ll give a brief overview of each of the presentations below, in program order.

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AGM Brainstorming

Last night was our Annual General Meeting. We had a good turnout and I want to thank everyone who came out and congratulate our new Board of Directors: Alan Byers, Crystal Catudal, Eric Damer, Mclean Edwards, Kathy Leavens, Heather McDonald, and myself.

At the meeting we also brainstormed a bit about the direction people want to see the BCHA go in the next year, both in big picture vision terms, and in more specific terms.

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On Being Offended

It’s a grave sense of entitlement that leads people to claim one’s rights are being taken away when you’re simply being refused special treatment.

Such is the case with 19 year old Nova Scotian William Swinimer, now infamous in Canadian newspapers for wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “Life is Wasted Without Jesus” despite repeatedly being asked by school authorities not to. Were the case simply about the t-shirt, this case would make for something of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is a school’s responsibility to try and ensure a comfortable and welcoming environment for all its students, regardless of faith or creed; if t-shirts such as Swinimer’s inhibit this goal, many claim the ban is justified. However, one must remember we do not have a fundamental right to protection from being offended. The ability to deal elegantly with ideas that are uncomfortable to you is a great virtue, and a skill all people must learn in this increasingly small but still diverse world; a skill more and more kids may be leaving high school without.

Of course, it isn’t simply about the t-shirt. Vice-president of the school council Katelyn Hiltz informed the CBC that Swinimer had been an aggressive and disruptive presence at the school even before making use of his wardrobe, picking fights with other kids who didn’t share his beliefs. “It started with him preaching his religion to kids and then telling them to go to hell,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t want to deal with this anymore.” Behaving this way, be it for religious reasons or no, has been a suspendable offense in schools for ages, so it should come as no surprise to anyone if they ask him to leave permanently, let alone the mere five days they chose. However, because his behaviour was inspired by his Christianity, many Canadians are now calling foul, saying his religious rights are being infringed upon.

What sort of attitude inspires the idea that Swinimer is being mistreated simply because he’s being held to the same rules and standards as the other kids? A common explanation is that these are the “shrinking pangs” of a traditionally entitled belief system adjusting to an increasingly secular, multicultural context. There’s resentment amongst many that voicing their religious convictions is now subject to the same rules of social etiquette as everything else, including rules of verbal harassment.

True, unfettered religious freedom does not exist for Canadian students like Swinimer: what religious freedom they have is bounded by the laws of their respective schools, let alone those of Canada. This is simply something everyone will need to get used to, and it’s this author’s hope that inter-faith groups continue to multiply and grow to aid this transition.

Neuroscientist and End of Faith author Sam Harris has set off a flurry of criticism over his recent essay, “in defense of profiling.”

In light of recent terrorist threats and attacks, Harris argues that “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

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Humanists in Canada have long fought for the right for women to control their own fertility.

However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that East Asian immigrants in Canada are having fewer than average baby girls, suggesting that some parents may be aborting foetuses based on their gender. This has even prompted the Canadian Medical Association Journal to call for doctors to withhold the sex of a foetus until 30 weeks into a pregnancy – past the point that most physicians in Canada would perform an abortion.*

As Vancouver is home to one of the largest immigrant populations in Canada, this dilemma is especially relevant for our community. So rather than have me spout my opinions, I want you to comment here with your thoughts. Should we side with women and mothers, ensuring their right to know the sex of their foetus and their right to continue or terminate that pregnancy, or should we be trying to curb the inherit sexism of those who would abort only girls?

Obviously this issue isn’t so black and white, so I’m hoping for some though provoking answers. Our comments are moderated but we do not mean to censor. We primarily want to limit spam posts and protect the BCHA which could be held liable for anything posted here. If you have trouble commenting, please email me.

*Note: While abortion is technically legal throughout an entire pregnancy, few doctors will perform medically-unnecessary abortions after the first trimester.

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