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

More on TWU - June 18, 2018 Newsletter

As I mentioned in my special update on Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the decision by law societies to reject Trinity Western University's proposed law school was reasonable.

The religious right in Canada has, as one might expect, decried the decision as a "big loss" for religious freedom and even arguing that "faith is now banned from Canada's public spaces."

While the full ramifications of this ruling will take years to sort out through subsequent rulings, such a reaction seems disconnected from the decisions as they're written. In each decision the justices express a recognition for the rights of individual Canadians to practice (or not) their faith. Where there is some disagreement is when that practice comes into contact with the rights of others.

In other words, religious freedom in Canada is a bit like the freedom to swing your arms about in public: it's all fine until your hand connects with someone else's face.

Aside from the reaction of religious activists, there has been ample coverage of the result in the media. I'll share just a few that I found interesting: 

Let me know if you find other illuminating or unique analyses.

On top of that, I spoke with one of our lawyers for the case earlier this afternoon and will hopefully have that conversation out as a special podcast later this week.

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Days from the TWU decision - Jun 11, 2018 newsletter

Many of you will recall that back in December we flew to Ottawa to argue before the Supreme Court of Canada on whether law societies should have to approve a law school from Trinity Western University while it maintains a discriminatory admissions policy.

We've been told that the Court will render its decision on Friday morning.

While there are realistically only two ways the court could go - siding with BC and Ontario's law societies or with TWU - it's the details that will matter.

Our submissions challenged TWU's claim that its religious rights were being infringed upon. We said organizations don't have religious rights under Canadian law and that if the court were to recognize such rights they should do so under a strict test.

I'll be sure to update you on Friday once we know the result and have had a chance to review it.

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Roseanne's implosion: When art, free speech and social media collide

By Sarah Joseph, Monash University

Another one bites the dust. In posting a racist tweet that resulted in the US network ABC summarily cancelling her show, Roseanne Barr joins a long line of people who have blown up their career with a social media post. And, as is always the case with such episodes, a prominent strand of the ensuing maelstrom will be all about “free speech”.

But what are the actual free speech implications of this episode?

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The need for charity law reform - June 4, 2018 Newsletter

On Thursday, I shared a message asking you to help us ensure Canada's charity laws are reformed.

Like all charities in Canada, we're subject to strict but ill-defined restrictions on our political activities.

As a group that advocates for the rights of the nonreligious and supports democracy and human rights, this puts us at risk when we speak out on pressing social issues.

The Liberals promised to reform these laws when they were elected and an expert panel provided clear recommendations for change.

Now we need your help to hold the government to account. 

Send a letter to the Prime Minister today

Tell him to follow-through and create a new law to protect Canadians’ right to be heard through the charities they support.

One of the steps to reforming Canada's charity laws is building a statutory definition of charity. If we can get the government to commit to this, we can have our best opportunity to challenge the privileged state of religion in our law.

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Secularism in court

Two court cases coming out of Alberta and one that reached the Supreme Court of the USA brought the legal aspects of secularism into focus this past week.

Secularism, to the BCHA, is “the right of every individual to practice any religion or none, free from coercion by the government, private institutions or their community.” It also includes a recognition “that the state has a duty of religious neutrality, meaning it must neither endorse nor prohibit any belief or non-belief.”

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Report from 77th AHA Conference

On May 17-20, 2018 I attended the 77th annual conference of the American Humanist Association in Las Vegas. As conferences go it was exceptional. One of the motivators as a BCHA member and also Humanist Canada supporters, this was the first AHA meeting I had ever attended, and was the opportunity to celebrate along with our great Canadian scientist and television personality, Dr David Suzuki, as he received the lifetime achievement award. He gave an exceptional talk on our need to limit reliance on fossil fuel‘s and other chemicals used in industry that are polluting our world leading to irreversible global warming.

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What Humanism can mean and what it commits us to - May 28, 2018 Newsletter

Over the past seven weeks, I've shared each of the fundamentals of Humanism as set out on our website. Today I want to conclude this series looking at the rest of the text of that declaration.

The Amsterdam Declaration 2002, which is how the BCHA defines Humanism, begins:

Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.

"Freethought" is a term that's been used widely and for centuries to describe those atheists and deists who pushed for liberal democracy and a separation of church and state. More recently, as Jeet Heer notes in The New Republic, the term has been "hijacked by right-wing trolls" and hip-hop artist Kayne West. Heer goes on to discuss Susan Jacoby's valuable text Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.

But as we've seen, Humanism is not just a challenge to the authority of the church or religion but a rounded ethical worldview that elevates human compassion and ingenuity. Which brings us to the conclusion of the Amsterdam Declaration:

Our primary task is to make human beings aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.

And it's this statement, more than any other in the Declaration, that encapsulates what vision Humanism has for the world. We're not about attacking religion or worshipping science. Our goals are promoting peace and compassion. Our means are free and scientific inquiry and human creativity.

The simplest terms I've heard to describe Humanism come from James Croft who has said Humanism is simply "reason, compassion and hope."

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Ireland votes to repeal abortion ban amid huge cultural shift

By Claire Pierson, University of Liverpool

In a historic referendum, the Irish people have voted by a landslide to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution, allowing the government to legislate for abortion. The vote illustrates the monumental shift in attitudes towards women’s rights in Ireland. It’s also testament to the power of a grassroots mobilised campaign which enabled women to share 35 years worth of experiences of pregnancy under the 8th amendment.

High-profile cases such as that of Savita Halappanavar and Amanda Mellet resonated with the public conscience and the telling of thousands of everyday stories illustrated how many women have been affected by the 8th amendment. Groups such as Termination for Medical Reasons spoke of having to travel abroad to end pregnancies with foetal anomalies. Projects including In her Shoes and Not at Home have published stories of abortion travel and buying abortion pills to end pregnancies alone without support or aftercare. In our research (led by Dr Fiona Bloomer of Ulster University) on abortion as a workplace issue, women spoke of the silence and stigma surrounding abortion. They revealed the costs involved in having to travel, being able to afford or get leave from work, worries about confidentiality and access to follow-up treatment.

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Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere - May 22, 2018 Newsletter

The final fundamental of Humanism says:

Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.

This last point emphasizes the universal ambitions of Humanism. With our common humanity and shared evolutionary history, we recognize that the broad approach of Humanism - reason and ethics applied to improving the human condition - is not tied to any one culture, history or peoples.

Because of my background, the Humanism I most often talk about is broadly derived from the European enlightenment philosophers. There's nothing inherently restricting us to that approach, however, and in fact there are many Humanistic elements of moral traditions from around the world. For example, we see similar priorities and approaches in some of the Ancient Greek philosophers, the Confucian traditions, the interconnectedness of humans and nature of many North American indigenous traditions.

Drawing this fundamental into our work then, it's our contention that Humanism should be an appealing lifestance to everyone in our diverse province. It's why we're working with our members and the local groups that exist across the province and are constantly thinking about what Humanism means in a multicultural country. But we have a lot more work to do to continue to make sure Humanism is appealing and relevant to "everyone everywhere" in British Columbia.

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Humanism values artistic creativity - May 14, 2018 Newsletter

The sixth fundamental of Humanism says:

Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognizes the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfillment.

Humanists and atheists are often stereotyped as overly academic, philosophical and scientific; almost Spock-like in our worship of logic over emotion.

But an important element of Humanism is recognizing the importance of art to the human condition. A life of pure "logic" denies an element of our humanity that allows us to connect empathetically with one another and that acts as a path to better understanding ourselves.

At times our Vancouver member's have arranged group trips to the theatre and we've included art created by our members in some of our silent auctions.

I am interested in more ways to engage this element in our work though. What would you like to see us do to better promote the "transforming power of art"?

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