The BC Humanist Association launched a petition today calling on the Government of BC to add "nonreligion" to the provincial Human Rights Code as a protected class.
The Government of BC is in the process of re-establishing a Human Rights Commission and is consulting on what changes should be made to BC's human rights laws.
A majority of British Columbians do not practice a religion or faith and a quarter do not believe in a higher power. Yet pervasive anti-atheist bias remains in many corners of this province, particularly in smaller communities and in addictions treatment. While religion was one of the earliest protected grounds in human rights law, there is no explicit protection for the nonreligious in the BC Human Rights Code.
The Code currently protects people from discrimination in service, accommodation or employment based on "race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age."
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
Equally important to the right to freedom of religion is the right to freedom from religion. Making nonreligion a protected class creates parity in the law between those who believe and those who don't.
The Quebec Human Rights Commission has said that Humanists and atheists aren't protected by anti-religious discrimination laws since, in their view, Humanism and atheism aren't religions. While some tribunals might accept that atheists are protected, this is a hole in the law that forces atheists to make a harder argument.
The Association humaniste du Québec (AHQ) filed a complaint with the Commission des droites de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse after the AHQ's application to perform marriages was rejected. That commission dismissed the case in 2016 stating that only religious groups are protected by the province's human rights protections, and as humanism is not a religion, there was no case for discrimination.
In 2015, the city of Madison, WI added "nonreligion" to the list of identities protected from discrimination and the 2016 International Religious Freedom Act signed by President Obama included explicit protections for "non-theists."
The Government of BC added "gender identity or expression" to the Human Rights Code in 2016 to provide explicit protections for transgender individuals.
The petition is open until November 15, when it will be presented to the government with the BCHA's other recommendations about human rights in BC. The government's consultation closes on November 17.
Image: Government of BC/Flickr