This past year has continued to be one of unprecedented challenges as we’ve learned how to adjust to the “new normal” of COVID-19, extreme natural disasters, the ongoing legacy of residential schools and the continued rise of reactionary nationalism.
However, as a community, the BC Humanist Association’s (BCHA) staff, board and members have continued to meet these challenges with compassion, morality, and scientifically-backed reason.
Research and Reports
Scientifically backed reason is the foundation of all of our pursuits as humanists. This year, the BCHA’s research team continued to conduct evidence-based research combating religious privilege, whether in the form of taxation inequities, legislative prayer or the funding of religious schools.
Together, we published four reports:
- “A Public Good? Property tax exemptions for places of worship in British Columbia” where we explored the impact of permissive and statutory tax exemptions and uncovered that in 2019, $58.4 million in tax exemptions remained uncollected from places of worship in BC. We are continuing our work on tax exemptions, and will be releasing a number of reports on this issue in the coming year.
- “An Extra Burden: The Clergy Residence Deduction” where we explored how religious clergy continue to receive special privileges through taxation exemptions that will cost Canadians $105 million in foregone revenue in 2021. This is part of our ongoing work examining special tax exemptions for religion.
- “Follow the money: BC's private school giveaway benefits wealthy and religious families” where we followed up with BC’s education system and revealed that $425,461,000 will go to private schools for the 2021-2022 school year (many of whom engage in discriminatory practices). This work drove nearly 500 supporters to email their MLAs to call for an end to the funding of religious and elite private schools in BC. We will continue to press the government to end these subsidies in 2022.
- “Separation of Religion and Government in Retrograde: The impact of star signs on BC Legislative politics.” This tongue in cheek report was released on April 1st. In it we used our existing data on MLAs to do a fun bit of analysis looking at the star signs of members of the Legislative Assembly. We identified the star signs of BC MLAs and recommended astrology and other forms of divination be taken as seriously as prayer in the legislature. Thanks to Barnum statements, most of the predictions we made in this report came to fruition, so look for a gloating and cheeky update this coming April.
Our research team is also dedicated to the highest standards of scholarship. As a result, we regularly submit our work to academic conferences and when possible, to academic journals. This year, we were fortunate enough to share some of our work at the “Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network Conference” in June. At this conference, we ran a practitioner session on “Legislative Prayer in Canada,” which included a number of our research team members who presented on our ongoing work.
We were also published in the leading academic journal for legislators and parliamentarians across Canada, the Canadian Parliamentary Review. Our article, Thoughts on Prayers: An Analysis of Prayers in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 2003-2019, summarised and provided an update to our previous work on prayer in the BC Legislature (see the House of Prayers report).
We also have a forthcoming book chapter, which examines the effects of the recent change from ‘prayers’ to ‘prayers and reflections’ on the practice in the BC Legislature. This chapter, entitled “Change and prayers: An analysis of prayers in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 2003-2020,” will be in an edited volume published by the University of Ottawa Press and should be out soon.
Campaigns and Initiatives
As humanists, we have a duty to advocate for compassion, morality, and equality.
Together, we took on several campaigns (backed by our evidenced-based research) to fulfill our mission:
- Over 600 people signed our “Require Vaccine Cards in Churches” petition demanding that the Provincial Health Officer end religious exemptions to public health orders. Since it was launched in September, there have been a number of outbreaks of COVID-19 connected to religious groups in BC. In early December, the PHO applied the mask mandate to places of worship but, outside of a special order applying to Northern Health, there is still no requirement that churches require proof of vaccination for in-person services.
- Early in the year we also drew attention to a Vancouver-based church that had begun calling itself a “support group” to seemingly skirt provincial health orders that restricted in-person worship services at the time.
- Over 400 supporters emailed their MLAs as part of our “End the Private School Giveaway” campaign to phase out funding for BC’s two-tiered education system. This system upholds religious privilege, socio-economic segregation and discrimination.
- Finally, we’ve just launched our “Email your MLA to End Prayer in the BC Legislature” campaign to, once again, call for the abolition of prayers in the BC Legislature. Already nearly 100 people have emailed their MLAs and we’re hearing some very heartening responses from individual politicians. Add your voice.
We also made several calls to action collectively as a BC Humanist Community. This summer we submitted a brief on Bill C-6: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy) to demand an end to all forms of conversion therapy. While that bill died when the federal election was called, we recently supported and celebrated the passage of bill C-4 this fall. That bill included the changes we called for and passed with unanimous support in both the House of Commons and the Senate.
The ban on #ConversionTherapy becomes the first bill to pass Parliament since the election and did so with the support of EVERY Member of Parliament and Senator. This is a huge win. #cdnpoli https://t.co/vBHYh3hYD4— BC Humanists (@BCHumanist) December 7, 2021
In our submission on the next provincial budget, we advocated for public funds to be used to support an inclusive society by ending the funding of private schools and property tax exemptions for places of worship. It further urged the government to ensure that public funds for childcare, social housing, healthcare and addictions recovery beds go only to secular and evidenced-based providers.
Similarly, we called on the federal government to use its next budget to repeal the clergy residence deduction, remove ‘advancement of religion’ as a charitable purpose and ensure that childcare funding goes to secular, nonprofit providers.
Together, we called attention to a number of issues issues through seven blog posts:
- “Have an omelet and pray, with the Prime Minister” where we highlighted the Prayer Breakfast as an example of ongoing religious elite entrenchment in Canadian Politics
- “Private school funding increases outpace inflation” where we showed a disproportionate growth in private school funding in BC’s public education system.
- “Marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” where we reiterated support for residential school survivors, their families, and communities and highlighted several initiatives for decolonization
- “WTF (Weird, That’s Funded?)” a series of three blog posts outlining the presence of creationism, homophobia, and the just plain bizarre in BC’s publicly funded private schools
- “Saanich endorses COVID-19 denial through permissive tax exemption” where we noted the implications that giving tax exemptions to places of worship has and the need for a benefits test through a case study of Winners Chapel Victoria in Saanich
- “No religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school" where we noted the imperative for public school clubs to be open, inclusive, and non-indoctrinating
Our efforts to defend secularism in the courts also continued through 2021. In May, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on a case we’d previously intervened in. The Court affirmed that religious organizations can be subject to judicial scrutiny. We were also granted leave to intervene in a human rights case, which will be heard early in the new year.
Community and Connection
We exemplify humanism when we are compassionate, creative, and connected. Despite ongoing challenges with COVID-19, we continued to find unique ways to grow and collaborate as a BC Humanist Community
We came together for a number of virtual events:
- A Trivia Night social in February
- A talk on the Trinity Western University ruling in February
- A talk on Property Tax Exemptions in March
- A discussion on Nonreligion in a Complex Future talk in March
- Our well-attended Annual General Meeting in June, which included a preview at our results on the clergy residence deduction
- World Humanist Day with Ray Argyle in June
- A talk on Private Schools in October
- A discussion on why representation matters with the Association of Secular Elected Officials in November
- A talk with AccessBC in December
We also collaborated with several other groups to enhance our reach. Earlier this year, we began work with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada to uncover insidious anti-choice practices, such as Crisis Pregnancy Centers. We cosigned a letter along with nearly 50 organizations calling on the City of Vancouver to divest from policing and invest in community programs to promote safety and wellbeing of communities impacted most by criminalization. We joined AccessBC’s campaign for free prescription contraception. Most recently, we were joined by the Canadian Secular Alliance as an intervener in the upcoming BC Human Rights Tribunal case that pits the White Rock Pride Society against the Star of the Sea Parish.
In 2018, @BCHumanist was notified of multiple municipalities opening council sessions with prayer, despite it being unconstitutional. They launched an investigation on municipalities across Canada and shared their findings. Watch the webinar to learn more: https://t.co/PVCp6epvlo pic.twitter.com/8kPg2pE7x4— Humanist Canada (@CanadaHumanist) July 9, 2021
As a nonprofit, all of the work that the BC Humanist Association has accomplished this year has been accomplished with the support of our community.
In 2022, we will continue our work on municipal prayers as we expand to cover the entire country. Over the course of the year, we will be releasing reports for other provinces and regions, starting with Manitoba. This will be linked to advocacy in those provinces, which we will carry out with local allies and other humanist organizations.
And as we continue to push against the public funding of private religious schools in BC, we are also planning to investigate the state of secularism in BC’s public school districts. This will require auditing every school district’s policies and practices.
We will continue our lecture series, hopefully begin in-person events once again (including a hopeful return to the Vancouver Pride Parade & Festival) and a relaunch of our Humanism at End of Life Guide.
We absolutely need your support to do this though. Our year-end fundraising goal is $10,000. Please donate what you can.