Question of Atheist Scruples – student atheist edition

June 7, 2016


Your 15-year-old refuses to stand and repeat the Lord’s Prayer at school. She says she is an atheist. Do you support her right to refuse?

Fuck yeah.

I’m reminded of a news article from earlier this year here in Saskatchewan regarding this very thing:

Dusti Hennenfent’s children go to Lindale Public Elementary School in Moose Jaw. The school plays the Lord’s Prayer over the PA system every morning.

Under the Education Act, Saskatchewan schools are allowed to have mandatory prayers for students, even in public schools.

Should prayers be included in classroom time in public schools?

“I’m concerned that it really doesn’t have respect for the individual beliefs of the students,” said Hennenfent. “I don’t understand the purpose of having religious worship for one religion at a public school.”

Exactly. If a public school can’t or won’t give equal time to acknowledge the religions of other students, it’s unfair. Better to remove the prayer rather than give preferential treatment to one group of kids over the rest. It’s not like those Christian kids can’t pray on their own without an official prompt. Nobody’s saying kids can’t pray in school. The problem comes when the teachers and principals and other people in authority positions force kids into praying and possibly/likely create an uncomfortable feeling for those of other faiths, or none.

“When I originally called the school and discussed this, at the very initial part of this process, I called the principal and she said that kids did have the option to leave the classroom [during the prayer],” said Hennenfent.

However, she said she was never made aware of that option, nor were her children. She also canvassed parents from seven different classrooms and learned that none of those children had been told that they had the option of leaving the classroom during the prayer.

The school has said that it will continue with the Lord’s Prayer because the majority of parents, about 90 per cent, are in favour of it.

I hate to counter with, “Well, a lot of people were in favour of slavery, too, but it’s still wrong.” It’s true, but it’s trite.

David Arnot, head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, said Friday that he agrees with Hennenfent.

“What you can’t do is choose one religion over another,” Arnot said. “A dominant religion, like Christianity, doesn’t get preference to other religions.”

He added that, in his opinion, the section of the law that allows for prayers in schools is outdated (it dates to 1995) and would likely be re-written if challenged in court.

There was a similar story in 1999 – “Saskatchewan told to pull prayer from schools” – but since it was a Commission making a recommendation, no one was under any obligation to change anything then. There was an earlier one from 1996 regarding bible readings in public school in 1993 The Board of Education was very pro Bible then, as well as now, apparently.

I haven’t found any updates on the current story, unfortunately. I thought I did, but it turned out to be a different prayer problem – Saskatoon’s public prayers at civic events. “The city has since decided not to adopt a prayer policy at civic events.”

Whatever that winds up meaning.

Now, to throw two book suggestions in – The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive and The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God. Buy copies for your kids if you can or want to and then put in requests for your local library to own copies as well for those families that can’t afford to buy books but can still benefit from the information.


Have a squirrel

August 21, 2014

Another day off. Enjoy more nature.

Is this squirrel possessed by the devil?

Is this squirrel possessed by the devil?

No, just fast. Here’s a better one.


Last summer at the cabin I followed him and his kin around the yard for a while trying to get some decent photos. They’ll sit, but they aren’t really good at following instructions…

The One Minion Search Party – “how old should you be to watch csi”

May 23, 2012

Did you know that the Saskatoon Public Library loans movies and TV shows on DVDs? Part of me thinks the place needs to advertise itself a whole lot better. I frequently run into people who have no idea free movies are there for the borrowing. It’s fiddly work for an employee to add a card into the database but it’s all made easier when the patron who wants the card carries ample ID. I have no idea how people can get anything done when they wander around so “incognito.” What if they were in some terrible accident that knocked them out or, worse, killed them outright? CSI-Saskatoon doesn’t exist. Nobody’s going to eyeball their shoelaces and know that only one store in the world stocks those shoes and it just happens to be in town and just happens to keep detailed records about buyers…

But I digress. Library cards are free for everyone. There’s no good reason not to have one. Everyone local should stop at a branch and get one this summer if they don’t have one yet and use the library as much as possible or else some politician will try to declare it a derelict operation better left unfunded and succeed. Libraries are still valuable sources of information and not everyone can afford their own computers or internet or want to. Not everyone wants to own books, movies, or music either so it’s nice to have a place to come to borrow some for a while and return them and get different ones. It’s still a terrific system. There are all kinds of programs going on every day, too, like story time or board game days or activities aimed at seniors. We’re also getting into the video games, kids, so now’s a good time to sign up!

Not only are the cards free, but they’ll work in every city/regional library in the province. Stop in any public library and you can sign up for a card useable in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Prince Albert and all surrounding areas. People who officially reside in other provinces but are living here short term for work can also apply for a temporary card that will let them borrow a limited number of items per library visit but give them an all access pass to our internet resources 24/7. We also offer single visit cards for travelers who are merely stopping by to check email or whatever.

So, onto the actual question. When libraries buy materials like DVDs, we’ll add stickers to the cases indicating the rating level the product itself advertises on the back of the box somewhere. The symbols are always on the back, but sometimes very small and hard to read. If you look and you still can’t find one, then the item is considered Not Rated. The bulk of the collection falls under Not Rated and General. This will be stuff anyone can borrow; kids, teens or adults. Most informational DVDs fall here, as do TV shows from earlier decades and anything specifically aimed at children. Canada’s rating system differs a little from the States sometimes, though, and something that might have an American rating that limits the viewing audience might wind up with an NR sticker here. (This often happens to films produced by non-English companies. They might not be intended for children but no group in Canada has rated it so the NR sticker is what we have to use.)

It’s been a while since I bothered to watch it but I think the CSI television series gets a 14A rating. This means it’s not intended for viewing by people younger than 14. That’s different than PG, which is going to be stuff that kids can watch if their parents or other adults are going to be in the room with them. There might be the odd episode or season given 18A which means no one younger than 18 should be watching it. We put the rating on the item and set up the item in the database with a code that will check the birthday listed on the card against the rating listed for the item. A card-carrying 12-year-old will be automatically blocked from borrowing anything with a 14 or 18A rating. Libraries don’t police whole families though. If a parent borrows it, who knows if they’ll let their kids watch it. We are only bound by law not to loan it to the kid directly.

Funnily enough, there’s a loophole no one really noticed until recently. For the past few years we’ve had a collection called “Hot Titles.” These are popular items that people can’t request or renew but can take out for a week if they’re smart enough to grab them as soon as they see them. The database coding for the DVDs in that collection never got written to take ratings into consideration. A parent came forward recently to complain about a movie the library loaned their child although it wasn’t age appropriate. I don’t know how that slipped by everyone. That’s the trouble with the obvious sometimes, though.

Excorcism in Saskatoon? Say it ain’t so!

April 14, 2012

Exorcism seems like one of those quirky things that should only exist in the realm of fiction. Sadly, since many people insist on believing a god can exert power over a populace, and hold the opposing belief that demons can manifest a similar ability to wreak havoc, it means many people can believe an exorcism will solve that problem. Including people in the somewhat metropolitan Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Via CBC, the headline– Exorcist expertise sought after Saskatoon ‘possession’:

According to church officials, a priest was called to a Saskatoon home by a woman who said her uncle showed signs of being possessed by the devil. The woman believed a priest’s blessing could help the distraught man.

At the home, the priest encountered a shirtless middle-aged man, slouched on a couch and holding his head in his hands.

The man had used a sharp instrument to carve the word Hell on his chest.

When the priest entered the room, the man spoke in the third person, saying “He belongs to me. Get out of here,” using a strange voice.

The priest told CBC News that he had never seen anything like this and was concerned enough to call police, for safety reasons.

Why wouldn’t the first assumption be mental illness? There are people who’ll self mutilate and hell, my teacher in grade 3 talked to us in the third person all the time. “Mr. Y. would like you to open your Language Arts books now…” (That is third person, right? Perhaps I need a Language Arts refresher.) I went to a catholic school and nobody went to find a priest in the hopes of ridding him of demons. He was just weird.

He said he then blessed the man, saying he belonged to the good side, to Jesus. With that, the man’s voice returned to normal for a short time.

The unusual voice returned when police arrived, and the priest continued to bless the man until he resumed a more normal composure.

So the possibility that the guy was doing all this just for a bit of attention isn’t worth considering? Over the top, granted. He could have just stripped down and flashed his neighbours or masturbated at the library (as some have been known to do).

CBC News followed up on the incident to learn if an exorcism had been performed, but church officials said a formal exorcism did not happen.

Bishop Don Bolen explained that the ritual of exorcism is a very structured exercise. He said it was not clear if the Saskatoon man was possessed or experiencing a mental breakdown.

Well, that’s something, at least. Good of him to admit there’s difficulty telling the difference. Of course, it requires the belief that possession is actually possible, sadly. The guy should be treated by medical professionals to see if there’s something they can do for him that will rid him of whatever delusions he’s living under. The problem I see with the “very structured exercise” is the need for said exorcist to buy into the delusion, too, and cater to it. It’s like people who truly believe dowsing rods work, or that they have psychic ability.

“I would think there are perhaps more stories about exorcisms in Hollywood than there are on the ground,” Bolen said. “But the Catholic Church teaches that there is a force of darkness, and that God is stronger than that darkness.”

Church leaders in Saskatoon have been considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist.

Sorry, but that’s just stupid. Stop encouraging people into believing these dark forces exist. This is the 21st century. Lay that superstition to rest already. Encourage the power of prayer, because you would anyway, but it would do so much more good to push these people toward medical help instead of engaging in spiritual fluffery as a supposed solution. If exorcism does anything, it does it like a placebo would; by tricking the mind into thinking that shit works.

Regina has no expert in this field, the article goes on, but mentions Saskatoon’s retired Rev. Joseph Bisztyo who’d been trained in the “art.”

Anglican priest Colin Clay, who has worked with Bisztyo, told CBC News the topic of exorcism touches on questions that go back centuries.

The issues revolve around the nature of evil and how to respond to people who claim they have the devil in them.

“The churches have to respond,” Clay said. “And they’ll either do it by saying — some churches will say — ‘Well that’s the devil, and the devil is at work in the world and we’ve got to deal with it,’ or the churches will say, ‘Well there’s certainly evil in the world, whether there’s an actual Satan or devil, there’s certainly evil in the world, and it has a terrible effect on people’s lives,’ and so we’ve got to respond to it.”

Clay said he does not dismiss how evil can affect people.

People in general are capable of tremendous good and extraordinary wickedness. Sometimes the same person can achieve both within a half hour, I’m sure. I don’t think wickedness ought to be explained using demonic possession as a possible reason for it, though. If some churches are still pushing that scenario, why aren’t the others speaking out against it more often? Why do ideas like that still persist? What use do they have beyond keeping people tense and scared? Better church attendance records when people think the devil might get them in their sleep? Or their children? Lunacy. Wouldn’t education would protect people better than Armor of God pajamas?

I hope it’s decided that an exorcism expert is unnecessary for the city. Surely there are better uses for their time and money.

Taking a snow day

November 6, 2011

Actually, I’m just bloody lazy. I had fun last night at the dance. A lot of people took the costume suggestions to heart and came well kitted out with period outfits. I cheated with jeans and a white T-shirt but that’s been an icon of “fashion” since at least the days of Rebel Without a Cause, so I blended into the 1950s quite nicely. They were giving away free condoms and had several raffle prize baskets made up with stuff donated by 302’s and beginner, intermediate and expert sex toy sets. I don’t hold out hope of winning any of them but who knows.

It is snowing here though, first of the season, and likely to be sticking around until spring now. I bought a dorky looking ear-flap toque that ties under my chin but I had to slice and sew around a couple slits near the ears so I could wear it comfortably with my glasses. It looks even dorkier now, but I’ll be the warm one while those laugh just to keep from freezing…

For those who have to be out on the roads today, good luck and drive safe.

City authorities to inspect controversial L.A. cross

September 21, 2011

An elderly West Hills Catholic named Laly Dobener has a two-story high cross in her yard, flecked with paint to symbolize Christ’s blood and a plaque that reads “Jesus I Trust In You.” Neighbours have contacted city officials and the Department of Building and Safety to complain about the thing.

“I don’t understand what my neighbors are so upset about,” Dobener said in an interview. “This cross isn’t hurting anyone.

“It is my way of expressing my love to God and to the world … to bring God’s love to everyone.”

Dobener’s neighbors on Hyannis Drive, however, are not feeling the love.

“When you turn down our cul-de-sac it looks like there is a church on our street,” said neighbor Laurie Biener.

“It’s bad enough how property values are these days. Then you have something like this affecting them even more … It’s like she’s making a statement for the whole neighborhood, and that is just not right.”

I expect she thinks she’s doing a good deed and saving her neighbours from hell in the process. She’s been a follower of an unrecognized Catholic splinter group called “Cross of Love.” It’s a movement that started in the 1980s in France with a claim that God insists that the building of these crosses that “must be 24 feet tall and painted blue and white” with 9 foot arms facing east and west, are the way to guarantee salvation.

A hunt for more about this gets me a Wikipedia entry about the Glorious Cross of Dozulé, which must have been the first of these. It was put up in the late ’70s after a woman there claimed Jesus had come by for a chat on 49 occasions. Priests and others claim they saw it happen so it must be true.

The ambition of the group is to convert the world “to avoid a material and spiritual catastrophe” but finding an actual number of people who’ve converted already has proven difficult.

There is at least one in Saskatoon. A woman dealing with some unnamed medical illness survived her high fever and courses of antibiotics and came out of the experience convinced she needed to build one of these things in her yard. A priest came and blessed it and held a mass in her garage, too. She notes there’s another of these crosses in Ponteix, Saskatchewan. It was erected in 2002 and greets everyone coming into town, although isn’t on town property. It was also blessed by a priest at the time.

For Dobener, the main problem is not tackiness, but zoning laws, and whether or not the thing is in compliance.

The issue centers on whether the cross is deemed a sign or a structure, since different zoning rules apply to each.

Stories about residents erecting large crosses on their properties have been reported in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Local officials in those cases ordered residents to remove the crosses, citing zoning rules.

However, both are expected to end up in court, where many believe they could be used as test cases of religious rights.

Not sure about the PA story, but Livingston, NJ, rewrote zoning codes after dealing with Patrick Racaniello and his wooden erection. It was only a small cross nailed to a tree but they felt it violated their rules about attracting too much public attention on private property. Racaniello hired the big dogs, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund (a Christian group of lawyers), and the city caved rather than deal with major legal expenses. Can’t really say I blame them.

Hard to know if this Cross of Love will cause a similar stir. Wait and see, I guess.

Gravelbourg church theft update

August 17, 2011

I wrote about this back in February of 2010 and then promptly forgot about it. I heard a brief thing on CBC Radio about her on the drive home from work today. Paulette Dumont’s case was moved from her small Saskatchewan town to the provincial capital of Regina so she could plead her case in French (away from most who’d know her, too).

Paulette Dumont, a volunteer at Our Lady of Assumption church in the town southwest of Regina, admitted to fraud and theft over $5,000 in connection with 63 fraudulent cheques worth more than $70,000 issued between January 2002 and May 2004.

CBC said the sentence would be 2 years conditional and served from home rather than jail.

Court heard 63 fraudulent cheques were issued between January 2002 and May 2004.

Under the terms of her house arrest, Dumont will be under electronic monitoring for the first six months.

The remaining 18 months she has to observe a curfew and meet as required with her probation worker.

The court did not set up a repayment schedule. It’s leaving the details up to the church.

Like they’ll ever see a fraction of that cash back in their coffers. I wonder what she thought she needed all that money for. Health issues? Overdrawn at the bank? Undisclosed gambling addiction? The possibilities are almost endless.