Upcoming HAAM Events
Saturday, July 22nd, Assiniboine Park, 6:30 PM (Note the time)
An Evening with Richard Carrier
Saturday August 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 7 PM
Date TBA, Birds Hill Park
And don’t forget about our Outreach at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival August 25-27.
Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page, or click the name of the event on the right sidebar.
Save the Dates
Our fall monthly meetings will be September 9th, October 14th, and November 18th, and our winter Solstice Party is booked for December 23rd. Details TBA.
Mark your calendars now so you won’t miss anything!
July Community (non-HAAM) Events
Thursday, July 13th, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 7:15 PM
(click poster to enlarge)
Steinbach Pride March for Equality
Saturday, July 15th, 11 AM
For details on these upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page.
Guide to Religion in Manitoba Schools
Every year, we hear concerns from parents wanting to know how to handle a situation in their child’s school related to religion. Usually the concern involves questions regarding the legality of a current practice, or complaints from parents who already know that their local school is flouting the law.
To help clarify the issues surrounding religion in Manitoba’s public schools, and provide parents with current information about what is – and is not – allowed, we have added a new web page to our site under the Resources tab. Check it out! And please provide us with your feedback so that we can add additional information to the page.
Tough Questions from the Old Testament
An encounter with a Christian apologist at our outreach booth at the Summer in the City Festival in Steinbach in June led one of our members to watch a sermon examining the character of the god of the Old Testament. Read highlights of that sermon, and our atheist’s commentary, on our Perspectives page.
Partners for Life Update
Just a reminder that if you can donate blood, please do! Summer is always a busy time for the blood banks, and Canadian Blood Services is already short. HAAM is part of the Partners for Life program, a friendly competition among businesses, schools, and community groups to show how generous their members can be. We know that Humanists are good people who donate blood! Our goal for 2017 is 25 donations, and as of the end of June we have 13, so we’re on track to meet it. Yay!
If you aren’t registered with Partners for Life, the instructions are here (or see link in right sidebar). And if you have already donated this year and weren’t registered, don’t worry. Just sign up now, and all your donations in 2017 will count toward HAAM’s total.
Steinbach Outreach Report
An Eye-Opening Weekend
Another summer outreach season is upon us. Here at HAAM we always look forward to it, but especially so this year, because for the first time, we were joined by three brand-new volunteers from the Eastman Humanist Community (EHC) in Steinbach. I would like to thank these people, especially since, being their first time doing something like this, they really didn’t know what to expect. I think I can speak for all when I say that it was a very eye-opening experience for them. A couple of comments they made that I found humorous were “That sign is causing some serious chiropractic neck adjustments” (referring to folks whose eyes read our front banner in disbelief as their feet kept moving). And later “This sign is like catnip for some Christians”. (See our 2017 Event photos for a picture of it.) After the outreach, I asked one of them for his reflections on the weekend, and he had this to say:
“During my few hours there, hundreds of people took note of the booth but most were unwilling or too shy to approach. Of those who did, it was interesting the variety of comments we received. A good number indicated that they were Christians and asked questions like:
- Where do your morals come from if you don’t have God?
- So when you die you think that there’s nothing – you just cease to exist? and
- What caused the big bang? Wouldn’t it be easier to admit that God made it?
Most encouraging, were the 25+ people who were excited to see us and who took our contact information. If only half come out to our next meeting, we’ll have to re-arrange our space to accommodate them!
A pleasant surprise were the several ‘gentle’ Christians who came by and said things like: ‘I’m sorry for the hostility you folks must be getting’ or ‘I agree with many of the things you stand for; this place needs you.’
It will be interesting to see the ripples that come from this weekend!”
I think the ripples he refers to are threefold:
- First, the impact our outreach will have on the growth of the EHC.
- Second would be the effect on our new volunteers. A second volunteer, who, from what I was able to observe, knows just about everybody in Steinbach, had many longtime friends and acquaintances of his stop by. Some seemed surprised that he was “with this group”; others saw him in the booth and just kept walking. His non-belief was previously no big secret, but I do have to admire a man who is willing to out himself so publicly.
- Third, the effect on the community. For those unfamiliar with Steinbach, the city has deep religious roots, which in the last few years have been challenged by its growth and the diversity that comes with that. Anecdote: One of our members was having a yard sale a block or two from the festival when a trio of senior ladies walked up. She asked the trio if they had been to the festival. With no further prompting one of them replied “Yes, … do you know there are atheists there!” Yup, the ripples will be interesting.
A Conversation Worth Having
For me, the best conversations seem to take place near closing time, and often with younger believers. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think folks like that see our booth and want to talk, but it takes all weekend for them to work up the courage. I suppose in the last hours of the festival they decide: now or never. That seemed to be the case on Sunday.
Our booth was approached by a young man and a couple of his supporters, or what I prefer to call listeners. The young man was well-spoken but not rehearsed, and I do mean that as a compliment. Many visitors show up with memorized apologetic arguments; they parrot what they’ve heard but really can’t go beyond what they’ve memorized. This young man from Steinbach Christian High School asked honest non-leading questions, with a genuine interest in who we were and why we don’t believe in God.
The conversation started with the usual clearing up of misconceptions and misrepresentations about Humanism, atheism and agnosticism. In outreach this has become standard practice when engaging someone who has the limited worldview of a Christian education. I explained that Humanism isn’t a religion as there is no supernatural belief, no holy books, and no dogma. I went on to explain the fundamental differences between Humanism and many forms of Christianity, such as:
- Humanists believe we are a product of this planet, not that the planet (or the universe for that matter) was created for us.
- Generally, Humanists are passionate about their epistemology (the study of knowledge and belief); we can’t accept an idea on faith alone – we really need to know that our beliefs are true.
- Christianity demands obedience to God; to love and serve God is considered a good thing. With Humanism, doubting and questioning everything is considered a good thing.
Finally, I explained to him that as Humanists, we believe that science and the scientific method are the best ways to tell fact from fiction, which is why most, if not all, Humanists today are atheists. To which he exclaimed that “science doesn’t disprove God, so how do atheists say there is no god?” After running through the argument (again) that generally atheists don’t claim there is no God, I did try to explain to them the concept of a strong atheism (the assertion that God does not exist).
Certain concepts of gods can’t exist because they are logically incoherent. I offered the student the simple example of an all-loving god who allows the creation that he loves to go to a place of eternal torment/torture that he created. This god can’t logically exist (unless we bastardize the definition of love into meaninglessness). I then asked him for his definition of love and he started to go into the free will argument that love is allowing choice. I completely agree that allowing choice is part of love; however for me, a better definition of love is what we find in 1 Corinthians 13 “(Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude…”) I said that if we are going to define torturing someone forever as being kind, we will have to redefine that word, too. (It seems that God is violating his own holy word.)
By now I could tell the student was getting a little flustered, so I listened to his description of the free will argument, which was pretty good for being off-the-cuff. When he got to the part where God cannot make himself known to us by appearing in person because it will take away our free will, I asked him, “Does Satan have free will?”, to which he gave me a nod in agreement. I continued “But Satan has intimate knowledge of God. If I have the story straight, Satan used to work for God and saw him in person, but yet Satan still has free will. If seeing God in the flesh (so to speak) does not affect Satan’s free will, why would it affect ours?”
His flustered look was starting to become real stress, so we switched to book recommendations. He recommended C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and asked me if I had read it. I told him I had not, but that I have read many other books and articles about Lewis’s arguments. I recommended The Trouble With Religion by Sophie Dulesh; she takes a mighty whack at deconstructing Lewis’s ideas in chapter one, so he doesn’t have to read the whole book.
We continued for a while about the good bits and the bad bits of Christianity, and how we can find many of the good bits of Christianity in many other religions, which both pre-date and post-date Christianity. I could tell that this young man really cared about what he believed in, and I think he really began to understand some of the immorality and absurdity of the Christian religion. Of course, what he does with this information is entirely up to him, and I wish him luck on whatever path he chooses. But from his body language, facial expressions, and the way he asked questions, I feel this was a conversation very much worth having. For me, it was one conversation that made the entire weekend worthwhile. – Pat Morrow
The Conversation Worth Having (Christopher Hitchens)
Demand an End to “Faith-Based” Health Care
Religiously-affiliated health care institutions are denying patients access to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) in Canada because of the beliefs of the religious boards controlling their policies. This is infringing on the ability of patients in those facilities to access a legal procedure, resulting in seriously ill and dying patients being subjected to prolonged suffering. Partisan policy should have no place in publicly-funded institutions that are required to serve all Manitobans.
Our website has all the information you need to get up to speed on this issue, including links to recent news articles for more background information. You will also find a sample letter that you can send to the hospital and government representatives, along with contact information for them.
Please add your voice to support the growing number of Manitobans who believe that government should remain neutral on matters of religion and that no religion should receive preferential treatment over another religion, or the lack of religion.
This is OUR publicly funded health care system, and we need to hold our elected representatives responsible for ensuring that it serves everyone. Demand better!
Book Film of the Month
Heart of the Beholder is a 2005 drama film written and directed by Ken Tipton, based on Tipton’s own experience as the owner of a chain of videocassette rental stores in the 1980’s. Tipton and his family had opened the first videocassette rental stores in St. Louis in 1980; their business was largely destroyed by a campaign of Christian fundamentalists who objected to the chain’s carrying Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ for rental.
Heart of the Beholder features Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek) and a very early performance by Chloe Grace Moretz as a child actress. It won “Best Feature Film” awards at several film festivals. Critical comments included “It is in many ways a politically charged film as it touches on issues of freedom of speech, religious beliefs and all-out fanaticism”. Here is the original trailer.
Thanks to Karen and David Donald for the donation.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this DVD.
The Theory of Evolution in Humanistic Thought
Saturday, February 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, February 25th, 9:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market. Note the time change – we’re meeting an hour earlier to avoid the rush.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
HAAM Condemns Religious Violence
The Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has devastated the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. We strongly believe that no matter what our ethnic origins or our religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), we are all unique human beings, and none of us deserve to undergo such horrors.
The actions of the gunman do NOT represent the views of the vast majority of Canadians. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of all the victims, as well as anyone who is now feeling unsafe in their own house of worship. We are thinking about you.
Meet Your Executive Team for 2017
The following board members were elected at our AGM in January:
President – Donna Harris Vice-president – Pat Morrow
Secretary – Rick Dondo Treasurer – Henry Kreindler
Members at Large:
Tammy Blanchette Norm Goertzen
Tony Governo Sherry Lyn Marginet
Dorothy Stephens Jim Taylor
New this year!
We will be adding two new ex-officio (non-voting) members to our executive, to liaise with our rural chapters.
Helen Friesen has stepped down from HAAM’s exec after 20 years (thank you Helen!), but will now represent the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach area). The rep for the Pembina Valley Secular Community (Morden-Winkler area) is yet to be decided (and will likely need to remain anonymous).
Charity of the Month
In keeping with February’s theme of evolution, it’s fitting that we help our fellow creatures, since we share so much of our DNA with them. Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre has been helping Manitoba wildlife since 1984.
Their mission is to
- Rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return back to the wild, and
- Educate about awareness, appreciation and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.
Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.
Wildlife Haven is permitted to rehabilitate and care for injured, sick and orphaned birds, including raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, falcons); mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats; and amphibians/reptiles (turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes). People finding these animals can call for advice, or to arrange pick-up or drop-off of the animal to the centre. More info is available on their website.
Wildlife Haven also runs an educational program, featuring wildlife ambassadors such as owls, hawks and falcons, and reptiles and amphibians, suitable for schools, service clubs, community events, senior living centres, etc.
Volunteers started Wildlife Haven out of their backyards before moving to the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station in 1993. In 2008 it moved to a retired dairy barn in Île des Chênes, and in 2015, construction began on a permanent home with a wildlife rehabilitation hospital and education centre. Future plans include a waterfowl overwintering enclosure, a variety of outdoor wildlife enclosures, raptor flyways, a natural wetland pond, a prairie tall grass site and a fruit orchard for wildlife and humans to enjoy. Let’s support this valuable work!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM Receives a Bequest
We recently received two whole boxes of books donated by a friend of Helen Friesen‘s who passed away last fall and left his entire collection to HAAM. His name was Hank Neufeld, and Helen says that “he was a very outspoken atheist and he had a lot of books”. She traveled to Swift Current, Saskatchewan to preside at his memorial service, and brought the books back with her.
This is an interesting collection, dating back many years. A number of the books are about religious persecution and politics, and several are polemics against the Catholic Church. Quite a few have historical value, and/or are about religious history. Some bear a stamp indicating that they once belonged to the now-defunct Society of Prairie Atheists in Biggar Sask.
Our sincere condolences go out to Hank’s widow, Joyce, and all of his family, along with a huge thank-you for this wonderful donation. You can find the list of new books on our Library page.
Outreach Report: World Religions Class
January brought us out to Green Valley School in Grunthal, Manitoba for what has become a biannual visit to Michael Zwaagstra’s high-school class. This was a first for me of sorts, as we usually meet with his Ethics class; this was our first time speaking to his World Religions class. It was also the first time I teamed up with fellow HAAM member Tammy Blanchette. I hope to see more of Tammy in outreach. When it came to the Q & A portion of the class, I often found myself thinking “Geez, I wish I’d thought to answer the question that way.” As has been mentioned in the past, we do these classes in pairs (just like the Mormons). This is not so much for mutual support or even safety, but because Humanism is a very diverse belief system – if you’re just beginning to understand it, it helps to hear different perspectives.
The demographic of the Grunthal area is Christian, and the students we have talked to over the past five years or so are exclusively Christian. Michael Zwaagstra himself is an excellent educator, and judging from his personal writings and the exchanges I have read and engaged in with him, he is an unabashed Christian. Knowing that, and after reading a previous syllabus from his class, I realize that these classes have a definite Christian bias. But I still have to offer kudos to Mr Zwaagstra, as he is giving young people the opportunity to meet many who don’t share their worldview. He has had Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and yes, Christians, come visit his classes. In the Manitoba school system there are a few other schools that offer a world religions-type class, but to my knowledge no one else brings in guest speakers who allow the students to, as they say, “get it from the horse’s mouth”. In today’s world, it’s imperative for each of us to understand at least the basics of each other’s beliefs, and it baffles my mind that more schools don’t make comparative religion a requirement. Mr. Zwaagstra and other educators are working to remedy that.
The class was about thirty students this time. Most every year they are asked to look into Humanism and check out our website before our visit. Much to my delight and surprise, this year they actually did (that has never happened before). Based on their questions, it seems that most of them stuck to just the website, which is unfortunate. Humanism has a deep, rich history to be explored. I would have preferred that they learn more about the humanistic ideas of the ancients, spanning the great societies of Greece, Rome, India, and the Far East. Or they could take a more modern approach and examine ever-evolving documents such as the Humanist Manifesto (I, II, and III). And of course, the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, which covers the fundamental principles of Humanism today.
Over the few years I’ve been doing this, the classes seem to follow a pattern – Introduction, Presentation, and then a Q & A (to which no one ever wants to ask the first question). Once the first question is out there, the gates open, but this too follows a pattern – about 30% of the class asks 100% of the questions. I often wonder about the students who remain silent. Are they indoctrinated to the point that they think we are ‘of the devil?’ Are some of them closeted atheists who fear they might be outed if they ask the wrong question? I suppose it could be that some kids just don’t like asking questions, or possibly don’t even want to be there. But the latter I find hard to believe, since this is an elective course.
Tammy and I fielded all the usual questions – where we come from, the Big Bang theory, morality, and what we do in outreach. Since it seems they kept their research primarily to HAAM’s website, we spoke about some of the content of the site, such as a public exchange about faith and the historicity of the exodus between myself and Mr Zwaagstra. Some students had questions regarding the article I wrote about Southland Church’s connection to churches that support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act (better known as the kill-the-gays bill). This was of special interest to a few of the students who attend Southland Church.
As these conversations go, they sometimes turn to the unusual. We talked about such concepts as speaking in tongues and being ‘slain in the spirit ‘. Both are backed by the ‘solid evidence’ of personal experience and what some believe is empirical evidence in the form of this Nightline video.
These parts of the discussion can be quite difficult, especially when talking to young people who have had these ideas reinforced for most, if not all, of their lives. This is why just talking about what we believe and why we believe it in outreach is so important. We’re under no illusions that we can change the minds of believers; it’s their right to believe what they choose. But through discussion and debate we can light the spark of critical thinking and rational thought. And that will create a better world for all of us.
HAAM Joins Human Rights Hub
We are now listed as a member organization on the new Human Rights Hub of Winnipeg. The Human Rights Hub provides a central space to coordinate and promote the events and activities of the many individuals and groups in Winnipeg taking action on human rights issues! Their website includes a calendar for human rights events; current employment and volunteer opportunities; profiles of Winnipeg organizations active in human rights issues; and a blog to learn what organizations are up to in our city. Check it out!
Our First Brunch was a Big Success!
What a lovely, bright morning at the Forks. It was Pat Morrow who said “I’m going to invite folks to a brunch. Doesn’t really matter if anyone shows up, I’ll be there.” Well, the night before the RSVPs totaled 22 people. By our count, 27 Humanists showed up at the Original Pancake House at the Forks! Pat had the wait staff scrambling to seat all of us.
It was a great opportunity for good food and good conversation. We had a mix of long term members, a few who we haven’t seen in a while, and some new faces as well! Grant and I sat by a young couple with their toddler. They were really kind and interesting. Let’s hope they come out to a regular meeting.
By a fluke/coincidence, we also met another new person, just because there wasn’t room left for her to sit! She was there to join another Meetup group, but they had no more seats at their table. She asked if she could sit with us and we all said sure!! Turns out, she’s one of “us”. And according to Mandy Wood, she was “amazing” and a pleasure to talk with. Click here for a photo of a few of the attendees.
We’ll definitely do a brunch again. Thank you to everyone who came out! And special thanks to Pat for organizing the morning. – Donna Harris
We’re Standing Up for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Worldwide
On January 23rd 2017, in one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump re-enacted the Global Gag Rule, prohibiting foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals, and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is even more extreme than past administrations, and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments.
In response, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights drafted a public statement calling on the Government of Canada and other sexual and reproductive rights allies to increase development financing in this area and to champion these issues within diplomatic efforts. The statement will be shared with Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
HAAM has added its name to the list of signatories who support the statement.
Call to Action! Please write to your MP to add your individual support. Click here for a template letter.
Book of the Month
In The Bonobo and the Atheist, primatologist Frans de Waal relates personal accounts of his work with primate species. He has spent years studying the similarities and differences between primate social societies and our own, concentrating mostly on morality, empathy, sympathy, altruism and a few other behaviours that many mistakenly deem as solely human attributes.
As a result of these studies, De Waal argues that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution. His research demonstrates that human kindness is a biological feature of our species and not something that has to be imposed on us by religious teaching.
Nevertheless, De Waal defends religion in this book, (even although he is an atheist himself), referring to it as cultural scaffolding that builds upon and enhances biologically innate moral rules. He appears to accept the view of science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. This has resulted in some interesting critical reviews, particularly from non-believers who are angry with him for giving religion a pass.
Is De Waal too soft on religion, or are his critics just bitter, as De Waal’s defenders claim? Why not read it and decide for yourself? Find it in our Library.
HAAM Takes On Apologetics
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a Christian pastor who wants to understand the worldview of non-believers so that he can coach his parishioners to refute it. That experience makes for a very interesting report from Pat Morrow.
The Humanism of Star Trek
Saturday, November 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
Secular Parents’ Book Club Meeting
Thursday, November 24th, 7 – 9 PM, location TBA
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday December 17th, Heritage-Victoria Community Club, 950 Sturgeon Road, 5:30 PM
For more information on these events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Prayer at City Hall Update
Tony Governo has filed a formal complaint about the prayers at city council meetings with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. He recently learned that his complaint has been registered. This means that it will be served on the Respondent (the City). They will be asked to provide a reply within 30 days. Then the complaint will be investigated, which could take 8-10 months from the time it is assigned. The investigator then makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board then decides to dismiss or take to next stage.
Tony was recently interviewed by CTV News about the threats he received on social media after his complaint. And also in October, Edmonton’s city council decided to comply with the Supreme Court ruling and ended the practice of opening their meetings with prayer. After contemplating a ‘moment of reflection’ instead, they ultimately decided that it made more sense to just skip the whole thing and just get down to business. Wouldn’t it be nice if Winnipeg could do the same?
If you have not previously read about this issue, you can catch up here.
Openly Secular Day is Tuesday, November 15th
Are you openly secular? Not everyone is – and not everyone can be. Too many people cannot reveal that they no longer believe, for fear of negative repercussions from their family, business/employment, friends, or community. But if we’re ever going to reduce the stigma of being a non-believer, and dispel the notion that atheists believe in ‘nothing’, more people have to come out of the closet.
The mission of the Openly Secular Campaign is to decrease discrimination and increase acceptance of atheists and Humanists by encouraging as many people as possible to let others know that they are non-religious. November 15th is Openly Secular Day, and it’s no accident that the date is just around the beginning of the holiday season – a time when so many people get together with family and friends. The goal on that day is to have as many people as possible ‘come out’ to just one other person. If you can do this, check out their website for more information and resources, and to take the ‘One Person Pledge’.
October event recap
October was a busy month! Our evening showing of the film A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy and Meaning in a World Without God was truly inspirational. President Donna Harris opened with a brief presentation about what Humanism is and how it differs from atheism. A big thank-you goes to Kumaran Reddy for recording it for us.
For a number of people, it was their first HAAM event, and one of those new people won our door prize – a copy of the book version of A Better Life. If you were unable to attend that evening, it is possible to view the film at home for a small fee. Check it out here.
If you couldn’t make it to our meeting to learn about the Humanist Outreach program in Uganda, and HAAM’s support of a secular school there, you missed a great evening. You can read news coverage of the meeting here.
Watch this short (2 minute) video message from Robert Bwambale of Kasese Humanist School.
Here is our sponsored student, John Bogere, saying hello to us.
Religious Exercises in Schools?
Just a reminder – Section 84(8) of the Manitoba Public Schools Act reads “If a petition asking for religious exercises, signed by the parents or guardians of 75% of the pupils in the case of a school having fewer than 80 pupils or by the parents or guardians of at least 60 pupils in the case of a school having an enrolment of 80 or more pupils, is presented to the school board, religious exercises shall be conducted for the children of those parents or guardians in that school year.”
This petition must come from the parents/community, NOT the school. The Minister of Education has ruled that public schools must be non-sectarian and that staff at the school cannot participate in recruiting students for prayer groups by contacting parents or sending home permission slips to be signed. It has come to our attention that some schools are still doing this, and one school division recently ended the practice simply because a parent brought it to the attention of the superintendent.
If this is still happening at your child’s school, we would like to know about it. Please contact us.
Call to Action – Speak up about Operation Christmas Child
If you’re involved in a school or other organization that collects for Operation Christmas Child, there are some very good reasons NOT to participate – even if you’re Christian (and especially if you’re not).
Spread the word!
Book of the Month – Pale Blue Dot
With Star Trek as our meeting topic, this seems like a good month to feature a book about our place in the universe. We have a copy of Carl Sagan’s 1994 classic Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. The title is, of course, based on the famous photograph of the same name – a picture of the Earth from 4 billion miles away, taken by Voyager 1 in 1991 as it approached the outer limits of our solar system.
The book begins by examining the idea that humans think they are uniquely important in this vast universe. Sagan continues by exploring our solar system in detail, and discussing the possibility of life on other planets, suggesting that our very survival may depend on the wise use of other worlds. He argues that in order to save the human race, space colonization and terraforming (the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of another planet or moon to make it habitable by Earth-like life) should be considered.
Watch this very moving tribute to Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot, produced by Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist). It’s only 5 minutes long.
Charity of the Month – The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre
The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre is just east of Main Street, near Dufferin Avenue. The address alone provides a wealth of information about the clients it serves. Its mission is to promote a safe, healthy, vibrant community for women and families, by offering programs designed to provide support, training, resources, and opportunities to women in the area. The centre arose out of a project sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg in 2000, to address problems caused by poverty and a lack of resources. Today it is a community hub where women and their families gather.
- A drop-in safe space with snacks, activities, computer and phone access, laundry facilities, and a clothing and household items collection
- Counselling and domestic violence recovery support
- A neighborhood oven for community baking and events
- Community safety programs
- Health, fitness, and nutrition programs
- Support and referrals for women dealing with stressors such as shelter, employment, emergency food and clothing, school, Child and Family Services involvement, legal help, Employment and Income Assistance disputes, daycare, etc.
What to Donate
Currently, the centre has a particular need for the following items that they go through very quickly
- Feminine hygiene products
- Baby formula
Please bring these items to the monthly meeting and we will deliver them to the centre. Of course, money likely wouldn’t be turned down, either. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a message letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Yay! HAAM members are now up to 15 donations for 2016! We have 11 members registered in the program, 7 of whom have donated at least once this year. We’re still just ahead of Steinbach Bible College, (with 13 donations), and there are almost 2 months to go! Let’s get a few more units in by New Year.
There’s no prize for donating blood – just bragging rights and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that Humanists are helping their fellow humans. So get out there and do it!
You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2), or attend one of these mobile clinics in the Winnipeg area.
Here are two new points worth noting (thanks Janine Guinn):
- The recommended time between donations for women is being increased to 84 days, because of the ongoing risk of low hemoglobin. (The interval for men remains at 56 days.)
- If you book an appointment at least 48 hours ahead, you can now have your pre-donation health questions sent by email and complete them online before you go, saving a bunch of time.
Note that you must register with the Partners for Life program in order for your donation to be credited to HAAM. Click here for more information and instructions on how to sign up.
We Need You!
It’s time to start looking ahead again to the upcoming year. Please consider volunteering to serve on our executive! We need people who are enthusiastic about building a supportive community, promoting a secular society with fairness for all, and advocating for critical thinking in the larger world. If you can contribute ideas, energy, time, and/or effort, you’re welcome to join us! The more committed people we have, the more we can accomplish.
Meetings are usually held monthly, (dates and times determined by mutual availability), with online contact in between. Please consider volunteering, or accepting the offer to join if you are approached. Many hands make light work, and enable HAAM to offer more events and programs, and make a bigger difference to our members and community.
Elections will be held at our AGM on January 14th – so you have some time to think about it or talk to members of our current executive if you have questions.
Outreach has been very busy since our last newsletter. Tony Governo and Tammy Blanchette have been out to speak to another high school class in southern Manitoba. I enjoyed meeting with a local hospital chaplain who is taking a class on world religions in an effort to become better at his job in spiritual care. His overall goal was to learn how to best to approach a “Humanist/atheist person” (his words) with regards to their spiritual care. It was a helluva starting point, but the ensuing discussion was interesting for two people who are, metaphorically speaking, from different planets.
A little later in October, Donna Harris and I (with Todd De Ryck along as an observer) spoke to a U of W class called “Crises in Faith” – an exploration of five major contemporary critiques of religion. We explained the usual atheism and Humanistic philosophy. The students’ questions were sometimes challenging, and as often happens when discussing philosophy, the conversation goes off in the strangest directions. We found ourselves having to explain why, when making societal decisions, both religious and non-religious people are welcome at the table of ideas, but religion itself shouldn’t and can’t be granted special privileges. I also found myself in the really odd position of explaining why the national socialism of the Nazis in the middle of the twentieth century was not a secular government. This is why we love outreach and especially visiting school classes; you really don’t know what someone will say next.
We’re looking forward to November and our visit to the newly formed Steinbach Humanist group; that should be fun. – Pat Morrow
When Good Intentions Cross Ethical Lines
In this issue:
- Report on another successful Outreach
- Secular group forming in Steinbach
- Blood drive update
- Back to school – beware of proselytization
- and more…
- Outreach report from our first Summer in the City
- Bigotry is a lifestyle choice
- Commenting on social media? Think twice!
- Is blasphemy a victimless crime? Stand up for free speech!
- and more…
- HAAM shows our Pride as we support the LGBTTQ community and stand up to bullying in Manitoba schools
- Does summer camp have to mean Bible camp? We look at what’s out there for our kids
- We’re gearing up for summer Outreach
- HAAM opposes attempts to reintroduce legislation that could affect access to abortion
and more… May Newsletter
You may have heard the story of a young mother in southern Manitoba who spoke at a Hanover School Division board meeting after her child was bullied for having two Moms. She asked for the school board to actively address its policies around diversity and allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.
In response to this story, HAAM has released the following official statement. However, because this story also resonates with us on a personal level, we are adding personal statements from two of our executive.
We at the Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba stand in support of Michelle McHale’s efforts to have family diversity – including LGBTTQ parents – included in discussions regarding human rights at her child’s school.
We believe that diversity in individuals and in families is to be appreciated and celebrated, not to be ignored or treated like something shameful. It doesn’t really matter whether that diversity reflects our nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or our religion (or lack thereof). These are just some of the protected characteristics under the Manitoba Human Rights Code. It is important that children learn to understand and appreciate the fact that we are all unique.
This statement summarizes our stance as an organization. However, this issue has also resonated with us on a personal level, and our President and Vice President have also prepared personal statements regarding the situation in Hanover School Division.
Statement from Donna Harris, President
Ms. McHale’s original complaint was that her 12-year-old child was being bullied by other students. In my opinion, the Hanover School Division’s first priority SHOULD have been to stop the bullying, and prevent it from re-occurring. It’s obvious that family diversity is a topic that needs to be addressed, if other kids are using it as a weapon against their classmates. And where did they get the idea in the first place? It must have come from somewhere close to home. This situation did not require a “sensitive” in-depth discussion about being homosexual. It required a lesson in tolerance, kindness, and respect.
It is interesting that the Manitoba school curriculum includes “family diversity” as a topic in the elementary grades, but not in middle school. A quick internet search turned up a number of books about different types of families that appear to be meant for children in grades 1 to 3. Family diversity doesn’t just mean two Moms or two Dads. What about families with adopted children from a different ethnic group? Mixed race families? Single parents? Children being raised by grandparents?
Surely there must be some of these families in the Hanover School District. I don’t believe Ms. McHale wanted to introduce sex education. She just wanted her child’s school to be a welcoming environment, where learning can take place in a positive, supportive atmosphere.
Statement from Pat Morrow, Vice-President
Print media and television give us the nuts and bolts of the story but don’t touch the underlying cause of the controversy. That underlying cause in southern Manitoba is Fundamentalist / Evangelical Christian beliefs. For Humanists, being gay or having two Moms is no more noteworthy than being black or left-handed. We’re all just people. Marriage between members of the same sex isn’t gay marriage, it’s just marriage. Using reason, science, and our natural human empathy, we came to this conclusion so long ago that it astounds us to find a group of educators and parents who don’t even want to talk about it.
Since this story broke it has exploded on the local social media, with a lot of anger and emotion on both sides. What’s really interesting for me to see are the religious folks who would for the most part like to stuff this subject back in the closet, and yet have so much to say about it. And for many of them, what they have to say is truly disgusting. For example, that homosexuality is a slippery slope leading to bestiality and pedophilia, or that homosexuality is a violation of God’s law and natural law. I asked several of these evangelical social media commenters if they agreed with the penalty for homosexuality written in Gods law (which of course is death). I also pressed several of them to confirm their support of statements made by other fundamentalist Christians whom they quote in their various posts, such as “Should we be removing children from the homes of gay parents?” and “Do you believe gay people spread diseases?“… The silence was deafening. Those of us who have heard the above claims before usually associate them with the wingnut fundamentalist Christianity of places such as Mississippi or Arkansas. What’s really disturbing is that these are fellow Manitobans in 2016. Their inability to answer these basic moral questions speaks volumes about what they truly believe about good, decent, moral people who just happen to be gay. On the other hand, I suppose it could be that religion has damaged their moral compass to the point that they cannot articulate a coherent answer due to acute cognitive dissonance.
I was looking through this social media quagmire of faith-based hyperbolic misinformation and general bigotry for that most elusive snippet of information – an actual reasonable argument against the subject at hand, which is that the Hanover School board is being asked to allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. Like looking for the proverbial diamond in a dung heap, I didn’t find any. The closest I was able to come were statements that parents have a right to teach children their beliefs, and multiple claims of “it’s our freedom of religion” (and no, I didn’t miss the irony that neither of these claims are “Gods Laws”). These are rights that Humanists fully support and are guaranteed in our Constitution. I think the question to ask is: At what point do we as a society tell parents and school boards that what they’re teaching their children is harmful and that what they’re not teaching is shortchanging them? I think that time is now, because what is good, what is right, and what is noble is on our side.
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.
UPDATED 17 October 2015 (added rebuttal from Nick Martin and additional statement from HAAM)
You may have seen the following editorial, by Nick Martin, which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on 9 October, 2015. It refers to a news release that HAAM sent to the Free Press in early September prior to River City Reasonfest. The content of the news release reflected the frustration our members felt at some of the stories we heard from visitors to our Outreach booth at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival in August, as well as from other sources over the past several years. In particular, the number of people who espouse creationism made us wonder how science is being taught in Manitoba schools, what the educational standards for science are, and whether or not those standards are being applied equally in all publicly funded schools.
Here is the editorial in its entirety, followed by the response our executive sent to the Free Press.
How Not to Enhance Your Credibility
I received a news release recently from the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba which made a sweeping and astonishing allegation about what Manitoba schools are teaching.
It was done in the context of promoting the Reasonfest conference that the group held.
Here’s what part of the HAAM news release said:
“Did you know that Manitoba schools are producing graduates who believe that fossils are man-made? Did you know that we have a creationist museum here in Winnipeg? Did you know that many religious groups in Manitoba endorse the (legal) beating of children because they’re ‘sinners’? Are you aware of the plight of LGBT and trans kids in the bible belt, or of business owners too scared to be who they are because their community will END their family’s livelihood if they found out? Is this acceptable to you as a Manitoban? A Canadian? A decent human being?”
It’s that first sentence with which I took issue, and immediately contacted the organization. Yes, I’m aware that some people would take issue with some of the subsequent sentences.
Note that the statement is not clarified or elaborated upon in any way. It does not say some Manitoba schools, it does not limit its allegation to a certain number of schools, or name those schools, which might be private schools, which might be among the dozens of faith-based schools, which might be non-funded independent schools… it declares “Manitoba schools.”
I doubt that you’ll find a lot of public schools teach that to their graduates. I think I would have noticed if my kids had come home telling me that the public school teacher had said evolution is a crock.
And when the person on the HAAM executive who sent the email got back to me, we ended up going back and forth quite a few times. Short version, it is not “Manitoba schools” — HAAM is aware of only one school at which it alleges that graduates are taught to believe that fossils are man-made, and the organization won’t name that school, because of fears of repercussions to anyone suspected of having passed on that information.
In his article “How Not to Enhance Your Credibility”, Nick Martin takes us to task for using imprecise language, and rightly so. Referring to “Manitoba schools” rather than “some Manitoba schools” sounds like hyperbole, when in fact it was a short-sighted shortening of a longer phrase.
What we know is that Manitoba is producing some high school graduates who are science illiterate. From what people tell us, sometimes the misinformation is endorsed by the school, sometimes it’s provided by teachers and probably not endorsed by the school, and sometimes confusing information could be coming from church or from home. When people tell us that bad things are happening and ask “isn’t there something you can do?” it’s not always clear that they mean “something you can do that doesn’t involve me coming forward.” We were admittedly caught off guard when we contacted some of them to say “great news, a reporter is interested in looking into this!” and they begged to be kept out of it for reasons we’ll discuss below. We replied to Nick Martin saying we’re working on coaxing people to come forward with a school name or teacher name, but we didn’t know he had a ticking clock and our time had run out. We’re not paid professionals with a PR team, we’re volunteers with day jobs who are trying to make a positive difference in Manitoba and we were hoping he would be an ally in getting the necessary conversations started.
There was one recent graduate not afraid to come forward. Our focus had been in trying to get public school issues brought to light since the parents there would be the most likely to be upset at their kids learning pseudoscience, but this graduate is from Calvin Christian Collegiate. She wrote, “Every science class was prefaced by the fact that we are all created by god and all the wonderful things that we discover through science are because god is awesome. We were taught creationism, and evolution was never brought up. I remember one time we talked about the Big Bang and everyone just laughed and mocked the idea without even a basic understanding of what it meant” and “my whole life I was told a lie… a lie that took away science and sex education.”
A recent graduate of a different Christian school who is not willing to come forward or name her school said that the science teacher would teach his lesson, immediately followed by another teacher who would contradict everything they were just told by saying “that was just one ‘opinion’ but we know X exists in the world because god” (X meaning evolution or the Big Bang, or whatever the case may be). The school is technically fulfilling its educational requirements but also endorsing conflicting messages that understandably leave the students confused. We have other anecdotal evidence involving Winnipeg public schools but the parents are not willing to be quoted; where do we go from here as concerned Manitobans?
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit, no religious pun intended. Most of Manitoba’s independent private religious schools are publicly funded*, which means we’re all paying to produce ignorant graduates from SOME OF these schools (we’ve also heard that some Christian schools have wonderful science programs). One example, from The King’s School’s website, mentions Adam and Eve in the same paragraph (#13) as it mentions science; page 6 of the Springs Academy student handbook says outright that they teach creationism. According to Manitoba’s education curriculum, a student could go all the way through school and never be taught Darwinian evolution. The foundational theory of biology is not touched on until grade twelve.
When HAAM does outreach work at the U of M each January we meet students (usually from St. John’s and St. Paul’s colleges) who want to argue that fossils are man-made or the devil planted them, or they landed there in the flood that “Noah” survived… when we ask these young adults where they went to high school we’ve heard Winnipeg, Altona, Grunthal, Winkler, and more. Why do so many Manitobans give religious schools a free pass? Isn’t education a right for all Canadians? Don’t the children of religious people have that same right? Is it ok that we’re producing some graduates who are science illiterate? How are Manitobans supposed to compete on the world stage if they’re ignorant?
The British Humanist Association proposes the following goal, which sounds like a good starting point for Manitoba:
“Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools. We work for enforceable statutory rules that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type. Such rules must also be comprehensive, so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.”
Great Britain agreed and banned the teaching of creationism as science in publicly funded schools in 2014. Such a proposal leaves out home-schooled kids and those in privately funded schools.
The reasons given to us for parents not wanting to come forward or afraid to be identified by deduction are varied and disturbing. The most common reason is that their kids are in school now, and the parents don’t want them ostracized or bullied by the kids of religious people who already have an ‘us vs. them’ mentality toward non-believers. For those who are non-white and come from cultural communities rooted in religion (e.g., we’ve spoken with Filipinos, First Nations people, and Somalis recently), being exposed as a non-believer means the community withdraws its social, financial, and emotional supports, forbidding their children to play with yours, excluding you from family and community events, removing most of your accessible support systems. And of course the rhythm of your life moves to the calendar of religious events, so to be excluded is disorienting to say the least. For those living south of Winnipeg we’ve been told that if you’re found out as a non-believer, entire communities will similarly shun you and your children, spreading the word not to patronize your business (this statement is backed by current HAAM members who are former members of groups that act this way). In our yearly outreach work at the Morden Corn and Apple festival we meet many of these secret non-believers who are relieved to be able to speak freely. What we hear from these encounters forms the basis of the other questions that Nick Martin thought might be objectionable. Here they are, one by one:
- “Did you know that we have a creationist museum here in Winnipeg?” For a comprehensive view of the pseudoscientific garbage that we hear on a regular basis in our outreach work, check out their website.
- “Did you know that many religious groups in Manitoba endorse the (legal) beating of children because they’re ‘sinners’?” The Twelve Tribes group, very active in Manitoba, is quite open about beating (sorry, “spanking”) their children with 5-foot sticks. We’ve heard about parents in a different cult who use corporal punishment that includes a scaled number of spanks in accordance with the “sin,” a single session going well over 100 spanks for a child under age 8 for asking a question. There are other forms of physical punishments from other groups we’ve heard about but we won’t get into it here.
- “Are you aware of the plight of LGBT and trans kids in the bible belt, or of business owners too scared to be who they are because their community will END their family’s livelihood if they found out?” We’ve already discussed the shunning part above. The LGBT and trans kids and young adults who come to us are truly heartbreaking because of their abysmal treatment. We point them to the Rainbow Resource Centre and we’ve started a collection of secular support links on our website so they know where to go if they suddenly find themselves kicked out or disowned.
The passage from our news release that Nick Martin quoted was the intro to our announcement about a secular conference we held in Winnipeg in September. The reason we think it’s important to bring together non-believers from across Canada and the USA is so that we can share ideas and strategies for addressing some of these common and disturbing issues.
Getting back to the problem of SOME Manitoba schools producing science-illiterate graduates, where do we go from here? If concerned parents with relevant information and recent graduates are willing, we suggest they send a letter to the Minister of Education and send us a copy too. We can’t do much unless people are willing to start talking.
Our last question from the news release stands: “Is [any of] this acceptable to you as a Manitoban? A Canadian? A decent human being?”
*From Manitoba Education, on Funding:
“The Department provides funding to funded independent schools for expenditures related to operations (e.g., salaries, learning resources), but not for capital expenditures (e.g., building new facilities, upkeep of existing facilities). The amount that each funded independent school receives is based on the number of eligible pupils enrolled at the school. Funding is set at 50% of public school net operating expenditures from two years previous to the current funding year. Funded independent schools also receive curricular materials support which is set at $60 per eligible pupil, $30 of which must be expended through the Manitoba Text Book Bureau.”
Rebuttal from Nick Martin
On 15 October 2015, Nick Martin posted this rebuttal in the Free Press.
That’s the longest diatribe I’ve undergone in a very long time.
I wrote recently about sweeping statements made by the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) in a news release a little over a month ago, most specifically a broad generalization that Manitoba schools are producing graduates who believe that fossils are man-made. The last I’d heard back from HAAM, as we went back and forth on that rather startling statement, it was aware of only one school, that the organization would not identify for fear of repercussions for the source of the information.
Last night we received an enormous letter to the editor from HAAM, a link to which you’ll find down below. It’s not running, not because it lambastes me, but because this letter would not only eat up the entire letters section and still barely be into the topic, and because the only thing we run that’s this long is the main story in 49.8 each week.
Yes, atheists attacked me. We’ll pause here while the anonymous on-line trolls, the religious right, the homophobes, all those members of my fan club roll around on the floor laughing.
Which reminds me, I saw a statement recently — with which I heartily agree, anecdotally — in one of the atheist Twitter accounts I follow, that the writer had never met an atheist who is a homophobe. But I digress.
Full disclosure: I am not now nor have I ever been a member of HAAM, and given how %^^%$# the organization is with me, it’s pretty safe to rule out my ever joining after I retire.
It could get uncomfortable if we ever encounter any HAAM members socially, which certainly isn’t out of the question. I’ve found during my decades in Winnipeg that the most adverse reaction I receive in social settings tends to be from those with whom I share at least some values, who despise me for where I work and what I do for a living, and for my crime of thinking there may be more than one perspective…but I digress again.
I’ve written many pieces over the years about school prayer and encroachments on a secular public school system, which aren’t all necessarily connected, but which tend to bring out the same crowd. I once wrote a very lengthy blog about my experiences in Ontario public schools in the 1950s and 1960s when the state imposed the mainstream Protestant churches on the education system, to the point of students receiving corporal punishment and even facing suspension for not embracing that forced faith. It’s pretty clear if you read anything I’ve written, that I believe it is not appropriate for adults to use public schools to attempt to inculcate other people’s children with their beliefs.
And despite all that, I’ve never been met with anything but politeness and welcome when I’ve gone to public schools in Steinbach and Winkler and Altona, and to the handful of faith-based schools which invite media attention.
I’ll talk about just one teeny point before I let you get on with reading HAAM’s diatribe. I did not say in my blog that I found statements made by HAAM to be objectionable — what I said was, that I recognize there are people in Manitoba who might object, which is pretty obvious — if there weren’t, why would HAAM feel the need to exist?
You can read the letter to the editor on HAAM’s website.
I considered reproducing it all below, but decided against it for the same reason I originally asked HAAM to back up its sweeping statement about what ‘Manitoba schools’ teach about evolution.
If you read the HAAM statement on its website, you’ll see that it makes allegations about two public postsecondary institutions and about several faith-based schools, and most remarkably there are statements about three ethnocultural groups which HAAM names and identifies as “non-white…cultural communities rooted in religion” which allegedly openly discriminate against and outright shun non-believers.
Am I saying that HAAM’s statements are false? No. But we don’t publish without proof and substantiation of such alarming and incendiary charges.
If you want to read the names of the ethnocultural groups and schools, they’re all on the HAAM website.
Statement from the HAAM executive
It’s unfortunate that Nick Martin took offense to our reply. That was not our intention, nor was our article written about him. Many Manitobans care about how faith-based beliefs affect our children, especially when it comes to publicly funded education.
The comprehensive, well balanced education of its children is the cornerstone of every modern society. There should always be room to talk about human myths, fables, and stories in our schools, but not to sell them as reality. The truth is that the modern world has real non-mythical problems to overcome, and those that cannot be solved by us will have to be solved by our children.
Teaching myths or demonstrably false ideas such as young earth creationism as truth will make our children less knowledgeable and less prepared to solve the very real problems we face today and in the future. And therein lies the problem.
No society has ever advanced by becoming more religious.
In this issue:
- We’re gearing up for our Summer Outreach in Morden and River City Reasonfest in September
- An apologist responds to Dr Arthur Schafer’s speech about the ethics of religion, and HAAM provides a rebuttal
- Updates on Outreach and Religion in Schools
- and more…
- Updates on the stories we’ve been following on religion in our public institutions,
- Details about all our upcoming events (including speakers who will be appearing at our River City Reasonfest conference in September), and
- A link to view the presentation on the Ethics of Religion if you missed it at our May meeting.
1976 was my last year at Principal Sparling, a little elementary school in the West End of Winnipeg. It was also the first year that Winnipeg #1 School Division did not open the morning exercises with the Lord’s Prayer or Christian Bible readings. There would be no more kids with the name Goldberg, Mahmoud, or Singh standing in the hall while Christian storytelling was going on inside class. It was a big step to a more secular school system – and we may be on the verge of another one.
At the present time Manitoba’s Public Schools Act states in section 80(2): “the school board SHALL pass a by-law authorizing instruction in religion in compliance with the (parents’) petition.” In effect, all that’s needed to have your religion (or any other religion for that matter) taught in public schools at lunchtime or after class is the signatures of a few of the schools’ parents, and your religion is in. No debate, no discussion.
A motion brought forward in April by trustee Lisa Naylor asks the provincial government to alter a single word – change “SHALL pass a bylaw authorizing instruction in religion” to “MAY pass a bylaw “. This tiny change in the act would give school divisions the necessary leeway to accept or reject a petition for religious instruction. This motion was much discussed at a very, very long school board meeting attended by several HAAM members just recently.
Speaking in favour of the motion (our side) was HAAM’s Tony Governo. His presentation was well researched and to the point, but unfortunately there’s only so much you can pack into 10 minutes. Tony pointed out that the way the act reads now could possibly be unconstitutional, as it leaves no recourse for minority religions, ones that cannot garner the required number of signatures. He pointed out that some provinces, such as British Columbia, have legislated a completely secular public school system. A great deal of his presentation and this meeting was spent commenting on the only religious group on record that as ever taken advantage of the religious petition system – the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF).
The CEF is an international organization that teaches an inerrant fundamentalist version of Christianity. A quick stroll on the internet will show that their primary goal is the religious conversion of children to their form of Christianity. They brought four people to speak against the motion – a husband and wife, a former volunteer, and the director of CEF Manitoba. The four presentations are far too much to cover in this article but their arguments are similar and seem to share the same central point: They believe that the wording change seeks to undermine religious freedom and restrict parents’ freedom to teach their own children their beliefs. It doesn’t, as trustee Naylor explained – the motion simply would give school boards the autonomy to evaluate religious programming being taught in public schools. At home, parents are free to teach their children whatever they choose.
It’s noteworthy that all four presenters against the motion were connected to the CEF either as present or former workers, or parent supporters. After each presentation I found another common theme among the CEF speakers – their ability to punch gaping holes in their own arguments. When the first presenter, a parent, was asked if there was any active recruiting going on by children in the CEF program, she replied “no”; then continued “but they (her children) would ask other children to go”. She also stated that her children “are very vocal about their Christian background and they have a right to continue that”. She later felt the need to add that her children were “vocal but never forceful”. I guess for Christians, recruitment has a different meaning?
The second presenter used his full 10 minutes to talk about constitutional and parental rights and how he feels this will limit them. He made the statement “if you’re going to refuse one religion you have to refuse them all”. I would agree, but this is not what the bill was about. When asked if the school board should have the right to screen out groups, either political or religious, that might be harmful to the kids, he wholeheartedly agreed. With that admission I don’t think he realized he threw his full support behind Ms. Naylor’s motion, which seeks to do exactly that – protect the kids from harmful beliefs.
The third presenter, David Hudson, has been director of CEF Manitoba for the last 26 years. He spoke about rights, freedoms and what he believes the CEF is primarily about – teaching children the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, almost every question that was asked of him in during the lengthy Q & A was met with sidestepping, obfuscation or just refusing to answer.
Some time was spent actually discussing what the CEF would teach in their classes. When asked to name an issue CEF is concerned with, Mr. Hudson brought up bullying, stating that bulling was very important. He was asked “if a child who was being bullied came to a CEF classroom what would be the take-home message for that 6-7 year old child?” Mr. Hudson’s answer was not that he would tell the child to report it to authorities, or to tell their parents, or even to find a teacher. According to CEF teaching, it is the child’s responsibility to love the bully, because, as Mr. Hudson stated, if you love the bully they can’t bully you back. Moreover, if the child is being bullied because they have two moms, this is a “non-issue” for CEF. The child should love the bully because, as he said “if people abuse you and you love them back it’s very hard for that abuse to continue”… No, I’m not making this up. I give Mr. Hudson credit as this is one of the few questions he answered directly.
Hudson repeatedly made the point that “the gays and lesbians” are a non-issue for the CEF, even though this organization has, from 2001-20012, donated $3,056,704 to anti LGBT organizations in the U.S. Yet he still insists it is a non-issue? When this was pointed out, the director simply dismissed it as inaccurate, even though it is a matter of public record and easily researched. The subject of the LGBT community was dodged so much that one trustee was prompted to ask “Mr. Hudson, you do realize evasion is a form of lying, don’t you?”
Hudson was also asked what are children told happens to unsaved people after they die; where do they go? Would they be cast into the lake of fire, eternal torment? No – according to the director, it’s just a “separation from God”. Of course, this puts him at direct odds with Section N (the statement of faith) on his organization’s own webpage; not to mention most of the course material that he actually sends out. So much for courage of conviction.
When asked about creationism he replied “The beauty of an education system is to teach both theories”. When asked about sex, specifically premarital sex, the director lamented “it’s a non-issue for us.” Sex is a non-issue? I think this is a first for any Christian group supposedly teaching right from wrong.
The final speaker, a former CEF volunteer who currently teaches at a private Christian school, spoke passionately on the importance of religious rights and parents’ rights. She believes that the Public Schools Act should remain the way it is, and that the motion to change it would restrict parents’ rights to teach their children as they see fit. Trustee Freedman picked up on a point Tony Governo made in his opening presentation: as the act is written it may be unconstitutional since it restricts smaller religions from the same access to schools as larger ones. Freedman, in a short exchange, was able to show this as inequality. The speaker agreed, and when pressed further, she agreed to gladly send a letter to the Minister of Education asking to change Section 80 of the act. The very section she came in to support!
It’s unfortunate that all the highly religious presenters that night couldn’t see the real issue; they are all victims of their own ignorance and religious indoctrination. They can’t see the difference between cultural study and promoting a religion as truth. They believe that promoting diversity and pluralism, and protecting children from harm, equals taking away their rights to teach their religious beliefs to their children. They equate a loss of privilege with a loss of rights. For some it forces them to lie about their faith. The cognitive dissonance must be painful.
I’m confident this motion will pass. Then it will be up to us, the people of Manitoba, to change our education act….. We’ll keep you posted.
– Pat Morrow
Spring is sprung! And HAAM is buzzing with activity. Registration is now open for HAAM’s very first conference…. River City Reasonfest, September 19 and 20, 2015. Buy your tickets now for the low, early bird rate of only $99 for the entire weekend. http://rivercityreasonfest.org/
In this issue: upcoming events including the Pride Parade, our Solstice Party, and a Summer Book Club; a special announcement will be forthcoming from our Humanist Celebrant; updates on religion in public schools and in the workplace; and more!
April can bring daffodils or blizzards and just about everything in between! But don`t miss out on the latest news. In this month`s newsletter we get details on our April meeting, learn about a call to action here in Winnipeg regarding the Child Evangelism Fellowship in local schools, and learn which book we`re recommending this month.
But in the meantime, take a few minutes to read.
In our April 2014 Newsletter, you’ll find:
- The next Book Club selection for May.
- What happened when two of our members spoke to a high school class in Grunthal, MB.
- Which well-known author we’re speaking to at our April meeting.
Just click to read!
Bill 18 is anti-bullying legislation, introduced by the provincial Education Minister, Nancy Allen, which modifies the Public Schools Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools). In part, it expands the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying, through such activities as text messaging, instant messaging and social media.
It requires that school boards establish a respect for human diversity policy, which must accommodate “student activity that promotes the school environment as being inclusive of all pupils, including student activities and organizations that use the name “gay-straight alliance”.”
There has been a lot of objection to the bill, primarily voiced from some more conservative religious groups. The objections have included vague misconceptions and misperceptions over what the bill would accomplish. Arguments have been put forth from these groups, attempting to present the objections in terms of definitions being too vague or too broad, but the main objection being that it is an attack on the religious freedom of faith-based schools.
They have interpreted the bill to mean that it requires them to put aside their religious convictions regarding their belief in the sinfulness of homosexuality by allowing groups like gay-straight alliances to exist in their schools. They appear to feel that this is equal to “promoting” homosexuality. This is not to paint all religious groups with the same brush, as we recognize that some more accepting, inclusive religious organizations and faith traditions have spoken up in support of the bill, but unfortunately the ones opposed have been getting the lion’s share of the media attention.
We believe that all people, especially students, should be respected and protected, no matter what their sexual orientation. In this case in particular, the rights of the individual should take precedence over the right to religious freedom.