Note: Scroll to the “Take Action” section of this post for ways to get involved.
On April 15 of 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the City of Saguenay (QC) must stop reciting a prayer at the start of its Council meetings. At the time of that decision, CFI Canada welcomed and supported this decision and applauded the initiatives of the many individuals and organizations who contributed this historic decision. Of particular note was Mouvement laique Quebecois, the organization that led the case. CFIC encouraged not only that municipal Councils, administrators and politicians immediately undertake compliance with this decision but that Canada’s Federal parliamentarians show respect and leadership in regard to this decision by ending prayers at sessions and meetings in the House of Commons. In response to the Supreme Court decision, Saskatchewan’s Premier, Brad Wall said that the Saskatchewan legislature would continue to hold prayers and that
I have not had one complaint. Not one concern registered. We’re very fortunate in Saskatchewan to have seen unprecedented population growth and we’re attracting people from all over the world
As indicated above, CFI Canada encouraged Municipal and Federal politicians to act on the Supreme Court decision’s protections of human rights – but not Provincial legislatures. The CFIC decision at that time was to reflect our role as a national charity with local members in every province. We omitted mention of provincial legislatures to respect the many provincial secular agencies who may have planned to call for action within their provinces. Should Saskatchewan secularists and secular organizations have registered complaints to Premier Wall? I think so, but I am not a resident of Saskatchewan.
Recently, however, Premier Wall’s comments begin to show an intersection with federal politics and federal policy – as has his latest Christmas message for Saskatchewan:
From a secularist point of view there are several details to critically examine:
- Is it appropriate for Premier Wall to lump all Saskatchewan residents, or even all disaster evacuees, in with Christians through a forced metaphor from Christian mythology?
- To what extent is Premier Wall’s forced metaphor factually and historically accurate?
- How does Premier Wall’s Christmas message intersect with his policy as a government leader?
Starting with the first question about all Saskatchewan residents being lumped-in with Christians: Clearly not all Saskatchewan residents wish to be lumped into a forced Christian metaphor. There are secularists (and even non-Christians!) in Saskatchewan who have communicated to CFI Canada their displeasure with the continued prayers in the provincial legislature and with the 2015 Christmas message (see section below). The Premier’s message excludes those individuals- and that is the problem. Whether the excluded individuals are part of a large or small minority in the province is beside the point - the Supreme Court decision, and much of human rights, is intended to protect minorities from the bullying power of large majorities. It is the Premier’s job to represent all residents, not just the majority. One might think that the Premier should not have to receive complaints to fulfill this responsibility to the principles of human rights – but that appears not to be the perspective he acts on.
In context of the question of historical accuracy of Premier Wall’s rather forced and awkward metaphor, CFIC has asked scholar Richard Carrier to offer a few comments
Wall’s account of the Saskatchewan evacuation and what it tells us about ourselves is beautiful and moving. Unfortunately, when he tries to compare it to Christian mythology, things go awry. Wall’s statement is filled with factual errors that reflect the disconnect between historical reality and Christian mythology. Caesar Augustus never issued “a decree that all people needed to be” counted, much less any that “affected the entire Roman world.” That is a confusion of the author of Luke. There was only a decree that a census be conducted of the province of Syria upon its annexation of Judea in 6 A.D. No other provinces were included in that. Luke has confused that one decree with an ongoing practice to periodically decree a census of each province. But each was conducted in different years. There was never a universal census of any kind before the time of Vespasian, in the 70s A.D. And no Roman census required people to travel as Luke incorrectly imagined. One could register in any city they happened to be near. Luke has confused the Roman practice of registering people under fictive tribes, with the idea that people had to return to their tribal lands to be registered, which is neither true nor at all economically plausible. Which unfortunately ruins Walls attempt to make an analogy with the events of this Summer. And even if someone had need of travel, for example because they wanted to be present when censors assessed their properties and estates, they would not bring pregnant women with them. Nor would any of this have occurred in Winter.
Wall has also selectively relied on the contradictory myths Christians wrote about the birth of Jesus. Wall evidently believes Luke’s claim that Jesus was born in a stable (because of the travel no census actually required of anyone and that no one would conduct while pregnant), but evidently does not believe Matthew’s claim that Jesus was born in his parents’ own home, where they had always lived, until forced to flee to Egypt by another mythical event, Herod’s purge of the toddlers of Bethlehem. In Matthew’s account they only move to Nazareth a decade later, until it was safe to return to Judea. In contradiction to Luke’s account, which has them always living in Nazareth, never living in Bethlehem (or in Egypt), and visiting Jerusalem every year, where evidently Judea was always safe for them to go. These counts cannot be reconciled. Not least because Herod died ten years before the census described by Luke. Which means Matthew places the birth of Jesus before 4 B .C. while Luke places the birth of Jesus in 6 A.D. Neither place the birth of Jesus in 1 A.D. When Medieval monks invented our dating system, they were not very good at history, and calculated the wrong year as their starting point.
It should perhaps also be noted that neither Matthew nor Luke say Joseph and Mary had no slaves, servants, or attendants to help them with any journey or birth. Or that they had no money or supplies. Even Luke, who invents the story of their being forced to encamp in a stable, said the reason was that no rooms were available, not that no rooms were affordable. In fact, Wall apparently forgot that in Matthew’s myth, Joseph and Mary were actually well supplied with cash and commodities by wealthy Iranians, summoned by a UFO; not visited by smelly shepherds. The Iranians are not mentioned by Luke, only shepherds. The shepherds are not mentioned in Matthew, only the Iranians. Most likely Luke, who was rewriting the myth he inherited from Matthew, didn’t like the idea of pagans attending his Jewish Lord’s birth, much less astrologers, and replaced them with suitably Jewish shepherds summoned by angels rather than stars.
One can question whether Jesus even existed. But even if he did, these ancient contradictory, fantastical, and factually inaccurate myths about him should not be promulgated as fact by any government that believes in a quality education for its citizens.
Finally on the question of how Premier Wall’s comments intersect with politics and policy, it is difficult to set aside Wall’s claims that the province continues to attract new residents from around the globe while not receiving a single complaint about a political process which is contradictory to the direction of a human rights decision of the Supreme Court of Canada - particularly in light of Premier Wall’s well-publicized comments and perspectives on admitting Syrian refugees into Canada. It should be clear that Premier Wall has chosen to, albeit indirectly, contrast internal displaced persons (a near-synonym for refugee) – a status he specifically describes in Christian terminology – with external refugees who have begun to arrive in Canada at about the same time as his message. It is difficult not to recognize that Premier Wall studiously omitted (perhaps even the term excluded is appropriate) the historic scale of the Syrian refugee crisis (estimates of 4 million plus affected) while focusing on Saskatchewan’s “mass exodus” of 8,000-13,000 people. This critical examination of Wall’s statement should not be perceived as an under-estimation of the seriousness of the 2015 Saskatchewan fires. The fires were unprecedented….so unprecedented, that Saskatchewan residents might expect a reflective and sober consideration of the factors which contribute to the ongoing escalation of extreme weather patterns and natural disasters around the globe. Unfortunately, Premier Wall seems ready to ignore the facts of climate change for the political convenience of jobs and a regionally-divisive message
“According to some industry estimates, there is upwards of around 30,000 direct layoffs in the energy sector in this country. Indirectly it could be much greater than that, but suffice it to say there have been tens of thousands of job losses. And these are middle class families in western Canada, not only in Western Canada, the impact has been felt across the country, because the energy sector is important to all of Canada, but these are middle-class families that are going into Christmas without a job in these particular cases. And there has not been, if I may say, to me, a lot of coverage about that, a lot of attention paid to these massive layoffs in Canada. And I wonder if that might be the case were it another sector in the country.”
In our examination of Premier Wall’s Christmas message, and how his comments intersect with policy, I asked Dr. Carrier to share further perspective on Premier Wall’s divisive comments. Dr. Carrier, showing his typical familiarity with Christian scripture, offered these comments (which might be instructive to Premier Wall):
Wall gloatingly claims Christianity is represented by the treatment of the Saskatchewan refugees, but then rejects Christianity when circumstances call upon him to be the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) if he expects to obtain eternal life (Luke 10:25-29), one who forgives his neighbor seventy by seventy times (Matthew 18:22), and does not refuse him anything, even his very own cloak, and even in the face of any threat (Matthew 5:38-48), lest he be left out in the cold (Matthew 25:10-12), when he does not show mercy to those in need (Luke 14:16-24). How you treat the refugee, Jesus said, is how you are treating him (Matthew 25:34-46). Wall is acting the role of the King, whom Jesus shuts out of heaven, for doing exactly what Wall is here saying to do (Matthew 25:34-46). Maybe Wall could actually practice his own religion. Rather than just preach it (Matthew 15:7-8).
CFI Canada is a secular humanist educational charity whose membership and volunteer base includes people who have diversely and individually self-described themselves to me as: atheist, agnostic, secular, secular humanist, humanist, secular Muslim, secular Jewish, skeptical and yes, even Christian. Common to all of these individuals is a commitment to a tolerant Canadian society which embraces a variety of cultures and which advances secular human rights which protect all people’s freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
When government officials include religion in their policy and public actions, it is inevitable that individuals and groups will be excluded. This is a violation of a fundamental concept of human rights – the protection of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Speaking out for secular government, or a close analysis of political statements which violate secular human rights principles, do not indicate a Grinch-like rejection of Christmas and joyful sentiments. Canadians should be proud to observe our freedoms for diverse people to celebrate their perspectives. But we should not celebrate political statements and processes which drive to cultural domination of minority groups by a majority. Government officials should be expected to speak based on evidence and fact – not mythology. Critical thinkers should continue to closely examine the policy decisions of political leaders.
Should Saskatchewan Secularists complain? In my opinion, yes they should. But more importantly, Saskatchewan secularists – and all Canadians should learn-about and critically examine public policy through the lens of secular human rights.
Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director
Are you Saskatchewan resident and want to take action? Here are some things to consider:
- Use the template letter from a SK resident entitled “MLA_Letter-SecularSK” (or write your own). MLA_Letter-SecularSK
- Put your MLA’s salutation (e.g. Honourable) and name after “Dear”.
- Add your name and/or signature and address at the bottom.
- Send it by email to your MLA and add this email list to the CC (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) to copy the following people:
- Honourable Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, President of the Executive Council, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs
- Honourable Jim Reiter, Minister of Government Relations, Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Telecommunication, Minister Responsible First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs, Minister Responsible for SaskEnergy Incorporated
- Honourable Jeremy Harrison, Minister Responsible for Immigration, Jobs, Skills and Training, Minister Responsible for Trade, Minister Responsible for Tourism Saskatchewan, Minister Responsible for Innovation
- Honourable Mark Docherty, Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, Minister Responsible for the Provincial Capital Commission
- Mr. Cam Broten, Leader of the Opposition
- Victor Lau, Leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan
- Darrin Lamoureux, Leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party
- Print and send it by regular mail to your MLA (optional to copy the above people). Mail to MLAs requires you to pay postage.
There is an Excel list (please request this via firstname.lastname@example.org) of the MLAs for this project. Further MLA contact information is available here:
Find Your Current Constituency to ensure your letter goes to your MLA:
LOOKING FOR MORE?
- To find some related quotes by your MLA while in session, try scanning for keywords (multiculturalism, Hanukah) on the Hansard Speaker Index – 27th Legislature:
You can include their own words of support for multiculturalism etc in your personalized letter to your MLA.
- Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. (Be prepared for hate mail)
- Consider sending a separate letter to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan:
How to write to the Lieutenant Governor
The Lieutenant Governor’s full title is:
Her Honour the Honourable Vaughn Solomon Schofield, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan
The salutation is: Your Honour
If you are writing to the Lieutenant Governor, address the letter to:
Her Honour the Honourable Vaughn Solomon Schofield
Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan
4607 Dewdney Avenue
Regina, Saskatchewan S4T 1B7
Comments From Saskatchewan Residents
- “This is not the first time that I’ve felt ostracized by Brad Wall and his insensitive tendency to think everyone is his religion and those who aren’t can suck it up. By my count the last three Christmas addresses (not including this one) were all specifically directed at his right leaning, christian base. The Premier should not be doing this on the taxpayers secular dollar (if indeed it is) and he shouldn’t be doing it as the Premier. It sends a message to anyone who isn’t in his demographic that they don’t matter, that they won’t matter to his government and if they don’t like it, too bad. Why? Well, because we’re a county of just white christians and nothing else. It’s frustrating to be born and raised in a place, pay taxes, raise children and call it home; Only to be told that you don’t matter and that if you don’t like it you should go somewhere else (admittedly this is just what people say when we mention that an address during the holidays should be more inclusive). I’ve kind of grown numb to the bigotry that exists in Saskatchewan. I see it daily from those I work with, and from those I know from my town, and from some whom I used to call friends when we were young. It’s too much, and I shouldn’t have to see it from our government representative.”
“Wow, that’s not cool.”
“holy crap. Wildly inappropriate doesn’t begin to describe that. Haven’t heard anything like that from a government leader in many years. I won’t click ‘like’ but thanks for posting it. We think that in Canada we’re far removed from most of the stories I read about on Friendly Atheist blog, but this proves that they don’t only take place in Alabama…”
“In some ways, the Premier’s message is trivial. Recently, I have been more concerned about his stance on refugees in general and on the environment and climate change. That being said, as a non-Christian and atheist, his message is somewhat alienating. Saskatchewan is not a theocracy and one hopes that there is not some kind of unofficial civic religion (although that hope may be in vain.) I suspect it is just the traditional, rather thoughtless, tiresome Christian mythology that politicians toss around this time of year. A challenge for Mr. Wall is whether he considers non-Christians and unbelievers of all stripes to be full citizens and worthy of full respect and consideration. The demographic trends are clear and Saskatchewan will have to face this question with more urgency in the near future. I will give his message this much: it made some appeal to the values of altruism and generosity that all decent moral persons share, religious or not.”
“The start of the address was good. Reflecting on the past year in Saskatchewan with the forest fires, community help, is important. It’s when he shifted to the nativity story he started to lose me. Once he suggested that Caesar Agustus issued a census, he lost me. It didn’t seem right. Beyond Christian sites, I couldn’t find any historical fact or suggestion that this happened. He had all the of his ex-wives, political positions, religious ideals and even rumors surrounding his death. Just nothing about the census. If this is what he personally believes in, cool. If this is what he believes the season means to him, that’s good too. But addressing the population like this is fact for the electoral to consider in their day to day events, is pretty absurd. I get it, he’s a Christian and head of this province, and this is an opportunity for him to share his beliefs and connect to others like him. What is that percentage? I’d rather he believe in the real, this province, the people and his government. These are real things that affect us all in a real way. I think that kind of message would benefit us all without being…preachy.”
“what a disgusting message. Imagine if a Muslim Premier of a province gave a message for 4 minutes speaking rubbish from the Qur’an. This message displays such a lack of secularism and courtesy to the people of his province, it serves to remind me why I fight so hard to get this religious dogma out of politics and schools.”
” he is using his public office to push the message of Christianity down the throats of the province. Simple as that. He should be neutral and spend his time uniting the province instead of uniting Christians and further alienating others.”
“secularism is about removing all religion from politics. that’s the only way to keep our country safe. protect freedom of religion and freedom FROM religion, for every person in our country. when you have a state sponsored religion, it’s far too easy for another religion to usurp it and replace it with whatever the majority of people in that country believe in.”
“I’m perfectly fine with everyone being free to speak their minds; that’s what I love about Canada. The government has a higher responsibility to be more inclusive and represent all the constituents equally, not use airtime to promote their one religion of choice. His heart was in the right place perhaps, but his message was done strategically to rally up his Christian voter base.
“Essentially, he could have given the exact same message of love, perseverance, and caring for others without proselytizing at the same time. My only issue is the proselytizing.”
- “my biggest concern is Wall’s use of words like divinest and ultimate. Wall’s use of government resources to further insistence that his religion is superior to that of many Saskatchewan residents is what I find most problematic.”