Local story, though, so I should have been more on the ball. Life getting in the way a little, I think. Interesting times and all that.
Anyway, there was some brouhaha earlier this month when a man by the name of Ashu Solo got a bit miffed over having to sit through a prayer at a civic function. The National Post picked up the story:
A Christian prayer by a city councillor at a City of Saskatoon volunteer appreciation dinner discriminated against non-Christians, says a volunteer who intends to complain to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
Ashu Solo, a member of the city’s cultural diversity and race relations committee, was among the guests at the dinner Wednesday, where Coun. Randy Donauer said a blessing over the food in which he mentioned Jesus and ended with “amen.”
“It made me feel like a second-class citizen. It makes you feel excluded,” said Solo, who is an atheist.
“It’s ironic that I’ve now become a victim of religious bigotry and discrimination at this banquet that was supposed to be an appreciation banquet for the service of volunteers like me.”
He started with a letter to the Mayor and passed out copies to the rest of City Council, too. Mayor Atchison was “caught off guard,” over the complaint regarding prayer, the article goes on-
because many of the events he attends include a prayer before meals.
“I’ve never given it any thought at all,” he said.
Atchison said he is sorry to hear Solo felt excluded.
While Atchison suggested perhaps featuring prayers from other belief systems and sometimes skipping prayers all together, this notion didn’t satisfy Solo. He wanted an apology and a commitment to scrap prayer at all civic events or he was going to take things up with the Human Rights board. Good luck with that…
Understandably, there are differing opinions regarding Solo’s complaints and intentions. Friendly Atheist wrote stuff up about this, taking the side that Solo over-reacted. Indi in the Wired had this to say:
When you feel insulted or marginalized as an atheist, the first step is not to point fingers and scream “bigotry” and “discrimination”, it’s to think – to understand the insult or slight better. And that doesn’t mean a thought process like, “well, i’ve seen other cases of bigotry and discrimination that sorta kinda look like this, so… that must be what it is!”; it means real thinking – we’re a movement that prides itself on rationality, so we should act like we believe what we preach. Understand the insult or slight, and its motivation, then decide on the best response: which could be firing up the word processor for some hot letters to the editor… or it could be a gentle reminder that atheists exist, and have feelings, too.
There’s this editorial out of the National Post as well, where Barbara Kay mocks Solo and the atheist movement in general, making us all out to be whiny complainers who’ll bawl over the littlest things. She claims Solo’s problems are nothing like real Christians suffer around the world. True enough, but I’d say she ought to look into some of the countries where people aren’t safe to be admitted atheists, either. Including areas of the USA and possibly parts of Canada. It’s just as big a concern, I’d say. Persecution is persecution.
She’s right about abusing human rights commissions over petty grievances, though. She and Hemant Mehta make the point that Solo could have discussed his concerns about including a prayer with the organizers of the event after the fact and simply request they consider dropping such blessings in the future. Claiming his rights have been violated because he was stuck hearing “Amen” before he could receive his volunteer award makes him seem… well, petty. Why drag Council and the Mayor and everything else into it?
I believe Atchison when he claims he never gave it a thought. Christians don’t. It’s just the every day thing and who takes much notice of how others might feel to be surrounded by people praying when they might not share the same beliefs? I recall being at a co-worker’s home for a meal once and the whole damn family broke into some praise song before they served any food. Good gravy, what the fuck is this.. awkward much? So I’m stuck standing there while everyone sings joyfully and in tune. Real good time for the atheist stranger in the crowd.
By and large, I don’t really care for the whole blessing thing either. They do it at my work Christmas party and it’s the library. That’s city. Why have prayer at that city event? But it’s there. One year it came from a rabbi. Last year it was some random babble from an employee’s kid. I’m not going to go up and whine about it. I’ll just sit there and ignore it. It doesn’t concern me. It bores me more than anything. If you’re going to thank anyone, thank the makers of the food and everyone else who played a part in getting it to the table.
I found an anonymous piece (via friend and commenter koinosuke) at the Star Phoenix offering more on this:
Whether it’s the non-denominational theistic prayer with which the provincial legislature opens its daily business or a city councillor invoking Jesus at a taxpayer-funded civic event meant to honour volunteers, it’s time that Saskatchewan reconsiders such practices in venues where secular public proceedings are held.
For as much as Judeo-Christian ethics and practices have contributed greatly to shaping western society, the Saskatoon of today isn’t a Christian society but a richly diverse community where atheist Ashu Solo, a member of the city’s cultural diversity and race relations committee, is justified in asking to be spared from religion at a public function.
His request isn’t an impingement on the freedom of religion claimed by his critics, whose right to practise their beliefs is protected by law, with tax deductions granted by senior governments to those who donate to religious organizations and tax abatements granted by the municipality for church property.
He’s not saying make all religion go away (even if he’d like it to). He’s saying make overt prayer go away at civic events. People can pray at their own tables if they feel like it but does the whole damn place have to stand up to honour a god they may not follow or give a damn about?
It’s a stupid tradition that’s easily done away with if people would just up and do away with it.
quick edit: via koinosuke I get another link: CFI has a media advisory out about Solo and the filing of his complaint on May first.