BCHA submits Budget 2023 response

The BC Humanist Association today renewed its call for a Secular BC in its response to the finance committee's consultations for Budget 2023.

In its response, the organization calls for an end to funding of religious and elite private schools, the end of the statutory property tax exemption for places of worship and for new funding criteria to ensure the government only funds secular and inclusive programs.

Update (Aug 11, 2022): The committee has released its report. In a section on Independent and Private Schools, it references work by the BCHA:

Regarding private school funding, the BC Humanist Association conducted an analysis which found that 70 percent of independent school funding went to religious schools, the majority of which were Christian or Catholic. They shared their support for the principle of public funds for public education and called for a phase out of public funding to faith‐based and private independent schools.

However, the report ultimately did not take up any of the BCHA's recommendations. You can still write your MLA and ask them to end the funding of private schools in BC.

The BCHA's Recommendations for Budget 2023

1. Begin a phase out of public funding of independent schools. This can begin with an immediate elimination of funds going to elite and faith-based private schools.

The BC Humanist Association supports the principle of public funds for public education and calls for a phase out of public funding to faith-based and private independent schools. A poll we conducted in 2016 with Insights West found that 63% of British Columbians opposed public funding going to private secular schools and 70% opposed funding going to private religious schools.

Our analysis found that 70% of independent school funding went to religious schools – the overwhelming majority of which were Christian or Catholic.  In fact, 62% of all independent school funding went to Christian or Catholic schools, despite only 45% of British Columbians identifying as such in the 2011 National Household Survey and an even smaller number in our survey.

Further, private school funding has seen an increase from $358 million in 2016/17 to $473 million in 2021. This represents a total increase of 32% and has outpaced increases in public school expenditures, which have only seen a 28% increase over the same period.

Funding for Group 1 and 2 schools is contingent on those schools teaching the provincial curriculum. However, by reviewing the public websites of a number of Group 1 independent schools we were able to find multiple examples of schools that explicitly say that they teach creationism as science or that they would undermine a robust science education by “teaching the controversy.”

We have also documented that numerous religious schools maintain policies that exclude LGBTQ2S+ students, staff and families, as well as anyone who has or assists in an abortion or assisted death. In a survey of publicly available information on schools’ websites, we found community standards, student handbooks, parent’s codes and Statements of Faith that individuals are required to sign and adhere to as a condition of attendance or employment at the school.  This is spelled out through a prohibition on “sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage” or a requirement to uphold “the sanctity of life.”

2. End the statutory exemption for places of worship in the Vancouver Charter, Community Charter and Taxation (Rural Area) Act. This would allow municipalities to decide based on their local desires whether to provide a permissive exemption to those properties.

Municipalities across British Columbia are required to exempt “places of public worship” by the Vancouver Charter, Community Charter and Taxation (Rural Area) Act. Each Act further provides municipalities the power to exempt additional property held by religious organizations from taxation through permissive exemptions.

These statutory exemptions are a special privilege granted to religious worldviews that is not similarly extended to nonreligious and secular organizations in the province. The current statutory exemption presumes that religious worship is a public good worthy of subsidy. As an organization that is based on a worldview that all people can be moral and upstanding citizens without appeals to the divine, we strongly contest this claim.

Further, there are religious groups in this province that promote intolerance on various protected grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity. While those groups and individuals are free to hold such views, there is no requirement that the Government of BC and local governments across the province provide financial support to them through property tax exemptions.

According to data we obtained from BC Assessment, the total assessed value of all “churches and bible schools” in the province for 2020 is $7.59 billion. Based on the non-profit mill rates, residential and commercial property owners in incorporated municipalities are shouldering a $45.9 million tax burden to exempt these places of worship.

We recommend repealing the statutory exemptions for places of public worship and instead allow local councils to give permissive exemptions to any property held by a religious (or secular) non-profit and charitable organization. Such a change has already been called for by the council of the Village of Radium Hot Springs.

3. Amend funding criteria for healthcare, childcare spaces, recovery beds, shelter spaces, affordable housing and granting programs to exclude religious and faith-based organizations.

Across Ministries we can easily point to examples of advantages given to religious – often primarily, if not exclusively, Christian – organizations.

For example:

  • Funding for 189 of 308 childcare spaces announced for the Tri-Cities Region in April 2022 are for Christian facilities.
  • Funding for addiction recovery beds often includes significant support for facilities that rely on faith-based 12-Step approaches, rather than evidence-based treatments. This includes dozens of beds funded in early 2021.
  • The government has frequently partnered with religious organizations, such as the Kelowna Gospel Mission, to provide affordable housing and shelter beds.
  • Faith-based hospitals and healthcare institutions receive over $1 billion in public funding and are granted exemptions from providing patients with all reproductive and end of life options that they have the right to.
  • Hopewell Clinic and Pregnancy Centre, “a Christian charity” that does “not provide ongoing primary health care including prenatal care, contraception, abortions or arranging abortions” , received a Community Gaming Grant of $57,000 in 2021.

The Supreme Court of Canada has said the state has a “duty of religious neutrality.”  In each of the examples above, the Government of British Columbia is privileging one religious tradition (Christianity) largely to the exclusion of any others. Rather, we submit the Government should begin the process of disentangling itself from the funding of religious organizations.

Given the history of religious proselytization, abuse and its connections to violent colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples, there are legitimate concerns about accessing services from organizations operated by Christian organizations for many people who are not religious or who come from minority faith communities. In agencies that serve vulnerable populations, such as shelters and recovery centres, there is an acute power imbalance that can result in extra pressure to present as religious and to hide aspects of one’s identity – particularly around sexuality and gender identity.

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