Windsor Humanist Society

September 29, 2007

Harper’s Tories just say no! to harm-reduction measures – “..back in business..” with same-old-same-old anti-drug strategy for $64-million

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Tony ClementHealth Minister Tony Clement will announce the Conservative government’s anti-drug strategy this week with a stark warning: “The party’s over” for illicit drug users.

“In the next few days, we’re going to be back in the business of an anti-drug strategy,” Mr. Clement told The Canadian Press. “In that sense, the party’s over.”

Shortly after taking office early last year, the Conservatives decided not to go ahead with a Liberal bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Since then, the number of people arrested for smoking pot has jumped dramatically in several Canadian cities, in some cases jumping by more than one third.

Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax all reported increases of between 20 and 50 per cent in 2006 of arrests for possession of cannabis, compared with the previous year.

As a result thousands of people were charged with an act that, under the previous Liberal government, was on the verge of being decriminalized.

Police forces said many young people were under the impression that the decriminalization bill had already passed and were smoking up more boldly than they’ve ever done before.

Tony Clement says his government wants to clear up the uncertainty.

“There’s been a lot of mixed messages going out about illicit drugs,” Tony Clement said in an interview Saturday after a symposium designed to bring together Canada’s arts and health communities to combat mental health issues.

There’s also a health-care cost element to suggesting to young people that using illicit drugs is OK, the minister said.

“The fact of the matter is they’re unhealthy,” Tony Clement said. “They create poor health outcomes.”

For too long, Mr. Clement argues, governments in Canada have been sending the wrong message about drug use. It’s time, he says, to take a tougher approach to dealing with the problem.

“There hasn’t been a meaningful retooling of our strategy to tackle illicit drugs in over 20 years in this country,” Tony Clement said.

“We’re going to be into a different world and take tackling these issues very seriously because (of) the impact on the health and safety of our kids.”

The Conservatives’ wide-ranging $64 million anti-drug strategy is expected to combine treatment and prevention programs with stiffer penalties for illicit drug use, and a crackdown at the border against drug smuggling.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day will join Tony Clement in announcing the plan as part of a range of initiatives to be unveiled by the Tories surrounding next month’s throne speech.

Tony Clement has suggested in the past that he opposes so-called harm-reduction strategies for combatting illegal drug use, including safe-injection sites where nurses provide addicts with clean needles and a safe place to use drugs.

At a Canadian Medical Association meeting last month, he was quoted saying “harm reduction, in a sense, takes many forms. To me, prevention is harm reduction. Treatment is harm reduction. Enforcement is harm reduction.”

The following day, a petition signed by over 130 physicians and scientists was released, condemning the Conservative governInjection Room at Insitement’s “potentially deadly” misrepresentation of the positive evidence for harm reduction programs.

Vancouver’s Insite safe injection clinic is facing a December 31 deadline for the renewal of a federal exemption that allows it to operate.

Advocates say safe-injection sites help to prevent the spread of serious diseases, including AIDS and hepatitis by preventing users from sharing needles while opponents say the sites simply promote illegal drug use.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 29, 2007 article from The Canadian Press

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September 26, 2007

African archbishop rejects US Anglican gay bishop move – “..they haven’t gone far enough..”

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The head of Kenya’s Anglican Church has rejected a compromise over gay bishops by US Episcopal Church leaders.
Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi
They have said they will halt the ordination of gay bishops and public blessings of same-sex relationships to prevent a split in the Anglican Church.

“That word ‘halt’ is not enough,” said Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi.

Many African Anglicans threatened to leave the worldwide Anglican Communion after the ordination of the first openly gay bishop four years ago.

The American Church was told to meet the conditions by 30 September or lose membership of the communion.

US bishops made the decision after a six-day meeting in New Orleans.

The meeting was attended in part by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who urged the Episcopal Church to make concessions for the sake of unity.

Last month, Archbishop Nzimbi presided over the consecration of two US bishops, Bill Murdoch and Bill Atwood, Bishops Bill Murdoch and Bill Atwoodwho left the US branch of the Anglican Church – the Episcopal Church – after it consecrated an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003.

The Kenyan archbishop said the US church leaders’ comments did not go far enough.

“What we expected to come from them is to repent – that this is a sin in the eyes of the Lord and repentance is what me, in particular, and others expected to hear coming from this church,” he said.

Correspondents say it was hoped the agreement would help defuse the crisis.

But Assistant Bishop of Kampala, Ugandan David Zac Niringiye, says it was “not a change of heart” and showed the church was already split.

“What this situation has brought to the fore is the malaise – something much deeper – that the entire communion has not dealt with and the consecration of Bishop Gene really brought to the surface something that was there,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“It is not the same church because it’s broken on very fundamental lines.”

Traditionalists in the US are already making plans to set up their own independent church.

Conservative churchgoers believe homosexuality is contrary to the Church’s teachings.

However, liberal Anglicans have argued that biblical teachings on justice and inclusion should take precedence.

The Episcopal bishops did reaffirm their commitment to the civil rights of gay people and said they opposed any violence towards them or violation of their dignity.

The meeting in New Orleans follows a summit of Anglican leaders in Tanzania earlier in the year which gave the US Episcopal Church a deadline of 30 September to define its position on the issue.

The leaders threatened that a failure to do so would leave their relationship with the US branch of Anglicanism “damaged at best”.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 26, 2007 article by  The BBC OnLine

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Shock at African archbishop claim that condoms deliberately infected with HIV “in order to finish quickly the African people”

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Shock at archbishop condom claim

The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.

Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected “in order to finish quickly the African people”.

The Catholic Church formally opposes any use of condoms, advising fidelity within marriage or sexual abstinence.

Aids activists have been angered by the remarks, one calling them “nonsense”.

“We’ve been using condoms for years now, and we still find them safe,” prominent Mozambican Aids activist Marcella Mahanjane told the BBC.

The UN says anti-retrovirals (ARVs) have proved very effective for treating people with Aids. The drugs are not a cure, but attack the virus on several fronts at once.

The BBC’s Jose Tembe in the capital, Maputo, says it is estimated that 16.2% of Mozambique’s 19m inhabitants are HIV positive.

About 500 people are infected every day.

Archbishop Chimoio told a BBC reporter that abstention, not condoms, was the best way to fight HIV/Aids.

“Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose,” he alleged, refusing to name the countries.

“They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century’s time.”

Aids activists in the country have been shocked by the archbishop’s comments.

“Condoms are one of the best ways of getting protection against catching Aids,” said Gabe Judas, who runs Tchivirika (Hard Work) – an theatre group that promotes HIV/Aids awareness.

“People must use condoms as it’s a safe way of having sex without catching Aids,” he told the BBC.

Archbishop Chimoio, who made the remarks at celebrations to mark 43 years of independence, said that fighting the disease was a serious matter.

“If we are joking with this sickness we will be finished as soon as possible.

“If we want to change the situation to face HIV/Aids it’s necessary to have a new mentality, if we don’t change mentality we’ll be finished quickly,” he said.

“It means marriage, people being faithful to their wives… (and) young people must be abstaining from sexual relations.”

The BBC correspondent says the archbishop is well respected in the country and the Catholic Church played a leading role in sponsoring the 1992 peace deal that ended a 16-year civil war.

Some 17.5% of Mozambicans are Catholic.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 26, 2007 article by The BBC

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September 19, 2007

Generation of Ontario women risk cervical cancer as publicly-funded Catholic educational leaders debate vaccine

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Catholic educational leaders across Ontario are debating whether to allow Grade 8 girls to get HPV Pap smearthe new HPV vaccine in school, amid fears the controversial needle effectively condones the kind of premarital sex their religion condemns.

The Halton Catholic board voted last night to let public health officials enter board elementary schools to administer the vaccine against human papilloma virus, the cause of most cases of cervical cancer.

The Toronto city board is to consider the issue tomorrow, and a Northern Ontario Catholic board will do so next month, after the province’s bishops weighed in with a pastoral letter on the question last week.

It is up to parents to decide whether their daughters get the vaccine, but HPV can only be contracted through sex, and sex outside marriage carries “profound risks to a young person’s spiritual, emotional, moral and physical health,” the Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

Ontario and three other provinces — Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island — are the first to launch school-based programs for administering the shots.

Anthony Danko, the Halton trustee who has submitted a motion to bar the HPV program from his board’s schools, said the vaccine’s moral ramifications rank high among his several concerns.

“It’s presuming that they’re going to have sex. This may be the reality, but it’s not a very hopeful attitude,” Mr. Danko said.

“We’re teaching abstinence and on the other hand we’re saying, ‘Here’s protection, just in case.’ It’s kind of a contradiction.”

Reverend David Wilhelm, another trustee, addressed the board last night, before the motion was defeated four to three: “What the bishops are telling us is that parents have the right and the responsibility to make these decisions for their children. I don’t think any of us have the right to take that away. Sometimes there is a tendency for us to want to take responsibility for the decisions of other people but as trustees, that goes well beyond what we’re here for.”

Oliver Carroll, chairman of the Toronto board, dismisses arguments that offering HPV immunization is a tacit vote in favour of unmarried young people having sex. “I can’t imagine too many parents would be encouraging their 13-, 14-year-old children to engage in sexual activity. But we recognize the world around us,” Mr. Carroll said.

“From my perspective, and I think the majority of the board, this is a health issue, and it’s a means to protect females from genital warts and cervical cancer … At the end of the day you balance off two moral obligations.”

He said “one or two” members of his board have moral objections to the needle being given to young girls in their schools, but they are in the minority, and the board is likely to give the program a green light, with parents making the final decision in individual cases.

The HPV vaccine, also known by its brand name Gardasil, is considered by many experts to be a major public health advance, providing safe protection against cancer by preventing an infectious disease. Studies indicate that it stops four types of the virus, which account for about 70% of cases of cervical cancer. The illness kills close to 400 Canadian women each year, with 1,350 new cases annually.

The federal government allotted $300-million in the last budget for provincial HPV vaccine campaigns, after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended females age nine to 26 should receive it. Controversy has arisen in recent months, however, partly because the funding was announced after extensive lobbying by Merck, which makes Gardasil, and because of the lack of long-term research on its efficacy and safety.

Dr. Bob Nosal, medical officer of health for Halton, said it is a safe and effective vaccine and giving it to young girls acknowledges the nature of adolescent behaviour. “If the teaching was going to dissuade all Catholic girls from having sex, then you probably wouldn’t need the vaccine,” he said. “But the reality is, and the stats show it, that a significant portion of high school and certainly university students are engaged in sexual activity, and the transmission is going to occur.”

In their letter, the bishops express “regret” that the program was introduced in Ontario schools without more study and public education. The note urges parents to keep in mind some important considerations when deciding whether to let their daughter have the shot, saying the vaccine could have “unintended and unwanted consequences.”

“Sexual activity is appropriate only within marriage,” they write. “Outside of marriage, abstinence is not only clearly the choice that leads to spiritual and moral well-being, but it is obviously the best protection against risks of disease.”

Mr. Danko said he is also concerned children could be vaccinated against the wishes of parents, noting that provincial law allows public health officials to override parents’ objections if a child opts for such a needle. However, Dr. Nosal said his nurses have no intention of vaccinating children against their parents’ wishes.

The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, based in Sault Ste. Marie, has asked for more information before it decides whether to allow the shots at its schools, feeling the program was implemented too quickly, with not enough notice.

“Our biggest concern is we don’t have very much information on this,” said Marchy Bruni, chair of the Huron-Superior board.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 19, 2007 article by Tom Blackwell and Katie Rook  in The National Post

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Yet another cartoon controversy – Mullah’s say Muhammad ‘offended’

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BANGLADESH GOVERNMENT DETAINS CARTOONIST

Bangladesh’s military-backed government on Tuesday arrested a cartoonist over a sketch considered offensive to Muslims, officials said.

Arisur Rahman, 23, was detained Prothom Alo Logoafter the publication of the cartoon in a weekly satirical magazine Alpin published by the mass-circulated Bengali daily Prothom Alo, said Dhaka police chief Jane Alam.

In the cartoon a small boy is shown adding the name Muhammad to the name of a cat.

All copies of the magazine, published on Monday, had been seized for “hurting the mentality of the Muslim masses of Bangladesh,” the government said in a statement issued by the press information department.

“He (Rahman) has been arrested and will be taken to court tomorrow,” added Jane Alam.

Bangladesh, with a population of 144 million, is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority country.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 19, 2007 article from the news wires of The Windsor Star

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Explanatory follow-up….

Alpin is a satirical cartoon supplement of the Daily Prothom Alo, which claims to be the most popular Bangla newspaper in Bangladesh. In the 6th page of its 431th issue a cartoon titled ‘name’ was published (on Monday, September 17, 2007) which created much controversy in Bangladesh.

So what was in that cartoon? The controversy is not in the picture, rather in the text. The Bangla blogosphere took on this issue right from the beginning.

The text of the cartoon is a conversation between a boy and an aged person.

* Boy, what is your name?
– My name is Babu.
* It is customary to mention Muhammed before the name.

* What is your father’s name?
– Muhammed Abu

* What’s this in your lap?
– Muhammed cat

This appears to satire the culture of the use of Muhammed in Muslim names and nothing to disgrace the prophet itself.

However the Islamist political parties thought otherwise. The Daily Naya Diganta reports that Khelafot Andolon had protested aginst this at Baitul Mokarram Mosque in Dhaka by burning copies of Prothom Alo. Its ameer, Maulana Shah Ahmadullah Ashraf stated:

“the cartoon indicates disgrace of the Muslim prophet by naming a cat ‘Muhammed’. Similar to the Danish Cartoon incident prophet Muhammed has been defamed in Muslim majority Bangladesh. He says Muslims use Muhammed in their names to pay the respect to the prophet. He demanded Prothom Alo to seek apology to the nation otherwise they demanded the Government to take strong action against Prothom Alo.”

According to a news item released by Daily Star “Law enforcement agencies yesterday arrested daily Prothom Alo cartoonist Arifur Rahman for a cartoon “hurting religious sentiments” published in the daily’s satire magazine “Aalpin” on Monday”.

The government has also confiscated all copies of the Aalpin’s 431st issue containing the cartoon titled “Naam” (name) on page six, a government press release said.

The press release also said Prothom Alo has already apologised and withdrawn the cartoon and dismissed an Aalpin sub-editor in this connection.

The government hopes everyone concerned with this unwarranted incident will exercise restraint and show sense of responsibility, said the press release.

Dhaka metropolitan detective police picked up Mr. Arif from his Uttara residence around 2:00pm and took him to their Minto Road office for questioning.

Mr. Arif was later handed over to Tejgaon police around 6:00pm.

Reacting to the incident, Law Adviser Mainul Hosein yesterday called a meeting of select Islamic experts led by Baitul Mukarram Khatib Maulana Obaidul Haque.

Mr. Mainul informed the experts that the cartoonist has already been arrested and Prothom Alo authorities have also promised to take action.

“There is a conspiracy to create a dangerous and unwanted situation,”
Mr. Mainul said, adding, “Everyone has to remain united against the conspiracy to destablise the country.”

The meeting was attended by Home Secretary Abdul Karim, Information Secretary Didarul Anwar, Religious Affairs Secretary Atowar Rahman, Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) Chairman Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini, IOJ Vice President Maulana Muhammad Mahiuddin, Secretary General Mufti Faizullah, Masjid Mission Secretary General Muhammad Khalilur Rahman al-Madani, Kamaluddin Zafri, among others.

At the meeting, the Islamic experts demanded that the Prothom Alo editor and publisher–also the editor and publisher of The Daily Star–surrender to the law enforcers. They urged the government to take legal action against those who are guilty.

The government ordered seizure of all copies of the Aalpin issue as it was banned for marketing, selling, reproduction or partial reproduction, publication or preservation for hurting the religious sentiment of the people of Bangladesh.

PROTHOM ALO STATEMENT:
The daily Prothom Alo in a statement yesterday apologized for inadvertently publishing the cartoon, describing it as “impertinent” and “completely unacceptable”.

The statement said the daily will no longer publish any written piece or cartoon by freelance cartoonist Arif. The Prothom Alo authority also assured that it will be extremely cautious to prevent similar incidents in future.

September 16, 2007

Newfoundland offers ‘religious school’ lessons

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Province reversed centuries of education based on faith to adopt a new public system

The intense animosity between people of different faiths was bound to spill on to the ice. Parents, fans, they all encouraged it among the hockey players at school.

Roger GrimesSuch was the violence of Newfoundland winters. “The hockey matches between Protestants and Catholics in Grand Falls where I grew up were legendary,” remembers former premier Roger Grimes. “These were wars on ice, and designed to be so. One of the highlights of the winter was to see the bloodbath.”

It was a grim fact of life in that province under its historically sectarian education system in which the churches ran the schools with money from the public purse. Besides the rivalries, students and neighbours were divided along religious lines, often driven on half-empty buses across town to schools that were homogenous but under serviced.

By the 1990s, the tensions had eased, but the economic burden of too many groups operating too many schools remained. That is, until a dramatic and complex political move uncoupled schools from the churches, turning the education of Newfoundland youngsters on its head, from one that was entirely denominational, to one that entirely was not.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory now wants to do precisely the opposite in this province, extending public funding to all religious schools – provided they follow the provincial curriculum – if he’s elected next month.

It’s “very difficult to look people in the eye who are Hindu, or Greek Orthodox or Muslim and say, `I know we made arrangements for that faith (Roman Catholic), but not for you,'” he said Friday explaining his policy choice.

Even those who disagree with his plan seem to understand his logic, except they’d prefer to end public funding for all religious schools.

Extracting Newfoundland’s schools from the church’s grasp was no easy task. The provincial Liberals of the day had to try twice, holding two referenda on the subject, and obtaining two constitutional amendments from the federal parliament, to get it done.

Most educators today say the sea change was for the better. But nearly a decade after the province changed course from sectarian to secular, the controversy and hard-feelings linger. So do the fears, especially among Catholics, that what happened in Newfoundland could play out in other places, such as Ontario, which funds Catholic but not other religious schools.

The Newfoundland experience, in fact, served as a wake-up call for Ontario Catholics, to do everything in their power to keep their school lights on.

Missionaries from the Church of England set up the first schools in Newfoundland in the 1720’s, beginning its long history of entrenched religious differences in schools. Church control was so profound that it became entrenched in the Terms of Union, which spelled out Newfoundland’s entry into Canada in 1949, making it a constitutional matter.

Clyde WellsA first referendum in 1995, held by then-premier Clyde Wells, passed by a slim margin. A change to the Terms of Union required a constitutional amendment, and thenprime minister Jean Chrétien vowed to push ahead with it.

The Catholic and Pentecostal churches were especially vocal on the streets and from the pulpit. They launched high-profile ad campaigns and canvassed door to door.

Their Ontario counterparts also joined in the debate. Catholic school trustees as well as church officials lobbied the federal government, fearing that a Newfoundland precedent could lead to abolishing Catholic schools in Ontario too.

Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter admonished Jean Chrétien in a letter to protect minority rights. “If your government rubber stamps (the Newfoundland amendment),” he wrote, “how can it in principle resist similar requests from voting majorities in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario?”

Roger Grimes, at the time education minister, says the plan unravelled since it still allowed for religious schools where numbers warranted, putting an effective public system at risk. So the government, now under the leadership of Brian Tobin, drew up a new referendum, this time removing churches from the education landscape.

The province pushed the need to save millions by ending overlap. “We couldn’t see a justification to fund four to five separate systems when there was no evidence in our view they were providing a higher quality education,” Roger Grimes says.

Other critics noted how unfair it was that a secular education simply wasn’t available.

Newfoundland was also experiencing its own kind of “Quiet Revolution” in which the churches were being met with increasing skepticism, says Bill McKim, a psychology professor at Memorial University, who edited a book about denominational education. “The memories of Mount Cashel were still fresh and many people were sympathetic to getting churches out of the school system,” Bill McKim says, referring to the sex abuse scandal at a Catholic orphanage.

Voters approved the measure in 1997, this time with 73 per cent of the vote. A court injunction failed, and by the next year, the province had a single, secular system.

There was tremendous upheaval. In some cases, thousands of students, teachers and staff had to move buildings. Dozens of schools were shuttered. In some cases, even the names of schools were changed to non-religious ones.

“One day we had Catholic schools, the next we did not. I don’t have good feelings about it,” says Bonaventure Fagan, who fiercely opposed the changes as a Catholic administrator, and is now president of the Canadian Catholic School Trustees Association.

“It took us through a period of a great deal of animosity,” he says. “It harnessed the old feelings of bigotry (against Catholics) that some used to foster their own aims.”

He blames the political loss on “misleading” referenda questions, and after years of squabbling, people were simply tired of the debate.

“The worst model we can have in education is the reductionist model,” Mr. Fagan says. “In other words, everybody goes to the same box, and comes out of the same box, with the same imprint. That’s not life. Not everybody wants the same thing for their kids.”

The controversy still simmers there. Mr. Fagan says many parents today still chafe at not having a choice.

Long-time Roman Catholic teacher and administrator Brian Shortall, who now leads the school boards’ association in Newfoundland, says it was only after the fact that many realized “the depth of feeling to the way things used to be. Some individuals took a long time to accept the fact that a fundamental social, cultural foundation was being changed.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Shortall, who was superintendent of the St. John’s Catholic board before and after it was switched into a public board, said the changes have been good for the province.

“At the end of the day, our overall academic performance and the expansion of programs within the buildings reflected positive gains as a result of the reorganization,” he says.

It was an intensely political fight. Mr. Fagan was so impassioned he wrote a book, which he called “Trial“.

Last year he gave a presentation to trustees from across the country, outlining how Newfoundland Catholics’ rights were dissolved and warning them to take action to prevent the same elsewhere.

The trustees heard that in many cases, people’s faith did not rally them to speak up, or that political or other affiliations trumped faith. Mr. Fagan recalls how “people in positions of influence, at the political level or the business level, didn’t have much to say.”

“Our point,” Mr. Fagan says, “was that Catholics simply cannot be indifferent to their system and think that they’re going to have it. You have to be committed to it and have an active faith.

“You’re only going to fight when you’re committed,” he says.

Ontario Catholics took notice. The Newfoundland transformation was viewed as a complete debacle. As one Catholic education official, who asked not to be named, puts it, “We saw how it could happen, and it put everyone in Ontario on alert.”

Ontario Catholics learned that “a good offence is the best defence.” The biggest lesson was the idea of erecting a strong and effective “infrastructure” that would be a formidable force against anyone trying to dismantle it.

Bernard Murray, who heads the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association, says, “Catholic education in Ontario is supported by a strong infrastructure of organizations.”

That includes the Institute for Catholic Education, which promotes publicly- funded Catholic schools, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, parents groups, teachers’ unions, and the trustees association, which regularly lobbies provincial politicians.

Any assault on the system and “there would be a great backlash,” Mr. Murray says. He points out that Catholic education has the support of all three main parties in Ontario. But politics can be fickle. In Newfoundland, many pointed to the sanctity of the Constitution and its enshrined rights of religious education. Some make the same argument here. But as Newfoundland shows, even the Constitution can be changed.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Jim McAl, after a September 16, 2007 article by Andrew Chung in The Toronto Star

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Are US Anglicans Preparing To Sacrifice Gays?

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Ever since the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire four years ago, forecasts of a rupture over homosexuality within the church or with the rest of the global Anglican Communion accompanied each big church meeting, only to fade.

But as the bishops of the Episcopal Church approach their semiannual meeting this week in New Orleans, the predictions are being taken very seriously.

At the top of the agenda for the Sept. 20-25 gathering will be a directive issued by the leaders of the Anglican Communion to stop consecrating openly gay and lesbian bishops and to ban blessings of same-sex unions or risk a diminished status in the communion, the world’s third-largest Christian denomination.

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, who is the spiritual leader of the cGene Robinsonommunion, will attend the meeting. It will be the first time Archbishop Williams has met with the church’s House of Bishops since the 2003 consecration of the gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The communion’s directive asks for a response from the Episcopal Church by Sept. 30.

In interviews last week, bishops and church experts who hold a range of views on homosexuality said they expected the House of Bishops would stop short, perhaps far short, of meeting the directive’s demands. That could widen rifts, as several dioceses have said they would break away from the Episcopal Church and primates of several provinces, or regions, have spoken of leaving the global communion.

“I think the meeting will add some clarity to what has already taken place,” said Bishop Kirk S. Smith of Arizona. “I think clearly there is going to be some sort of exodus from the communion.”

Currently, the Episcopal Church urges, but does not require, dioceses and bishops to refrain from electing openly gay and lesbian bishops. None have been elected since Bishop Robinson, but the Rev. Tracey Lind, who is a lesbian, is among the candidates to become the new bishop of Chicago.

The church does not have rites of blessing for same-sex unions, but some individual bishops permit blessing ceremonies in their dioceses.

At a February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, three dozen primates of the Anglican Communion issued the directive on gay bishops and same-sex unions. They also demanded that the Episcopal Church create a parallel leadership structure to serve the conservative minority of Episcopalians who oppose their church’s liberal stance on homosexuality.

Conservative Anglicans hailed the primates’ directive as an affirmation of traditional biblical teachings on homosexuality for the world’s 77 million Anglicans, of whom 2.4 million are Episcopalians.

A month later, Episcopal bishops rejected the parallel structure, saying it would compromise the church’s autonomy. Since then, several more parishes among the 7,700 Episcopal congregations in the United States have left the church and placed themselves under the authority of foreign bishops, mostly in Africa.

Moreover, the provinces of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, passionate critics of the Episcopal Church, have consecrated conservative American clergy as their bishops in the United States to serve disaffected congregations, a move Episcopal Church leaders view as a violation of the church’s authority.

“There already is a separation,” said the Rev. William Sachs, director of the Center for Reconciliation and Mission at St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, Va. “The question is, how far does it spread?”

The answer may soon become apparent. Several dissident dioceses, like Quincy, Ill., San Joaquin, Calif., and Pittsburgh, are taking steps to align themselves with a foreign province, should the Episcopal bishops refuse the terms of the directive, said Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who leads a network of conservatives seeking alternative oversight. Such departures would probably lead to years of litigation over church property, experts said.

Unlike bishops in provinces that are more hierarchical, bishops in the Episcopal Church cannot legislate on behalf of the church, experts said. Only the church’s General Convention can do that, they said, and its next meeting is in 2009.

Still, the bishops could overturn their earlier decision regarding the alternative oversight structure or state that they would categorically refuse to approve the election of openly gay and lesbian clergy members to the episcopate.

Few expect that to happen, and some bishops, including some theological conservatives, take issue with outsiders telling the American church what to do.

“I think they’re pushing us because they want to polarize the issue,” said Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama, who did not vote for Bishop Robinson’s consecration. “The primates want us to say that we don’t approve public rites of blessing, and we have not done that. They don’t want us to approve gay bishops in committed relationships, and the 2006 general convention resolution makes that unlikely. Basically, what I’m saying is that what they are asking is essentially already the case.” If the bishops take such a position, that would amount to a rejection of the directive. Archbishop Williams would “have a hard time carrying on with business as usual,” said the Rev. Ephraim Radner, a leading Episcopal conservative and professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto.

The archbishop might then take steps to reduce the Episcopal Church’s role and representation in the communion, Mr. Radner and others said.

Some African primates have also spoken openly about leaving the Anglican Communion, which would create great disarray in their provinces, as not all their bishops or clergy are willing to break with the communion over this issue, Episcopal bishops and experts said.

“This is the most significant meeting in the last three years,”
Mr. Radner said. “I’m not saying it will resolve everything, but it will set in motion responses that have been brewing for a long time. It doesn’t matter what happens, there’s going to be response from a whole range of folks in the Anglican Communion that will determine the future of communion.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a September 16, 2007 article by Neela Banerjee in The New York Times

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September 15, 2007

‘Affording’ religious schools: A response to Jack Mintz’ “Religious schools are affordable”

Filed under: Uncategorized — moderator @ 10:37 pm

I have a great deal of respect for Jack Mintz as a person and as an economist, which is why I hesitated aJack Mintz lot before responding to his plea for funding religious schools. Still, he deserves a response because he writes on a very important topic using arguments that I find incorrect on both financial and moral grounds.

Let’s start from the claim that Ontario can “afford” to fund religious schools. Jack knows very well that there is no such a term as “affordable” in economics. Economics is about choice, and everything is affordable, provided you decide to sacrifice something else. The Ontario Conservatives have promised to spend $400-million to fund religious schools and to cut more than $2-billion in taxes by abolishing the health surtax. Clearly, something will have to go on the programme side, something that their leader has been eloquently silent about. What is it going to be? Starving the universities, or letting health care deteriorate even further? Alternatively, the Conservatives may let the provincial deficit escalate (or delay the debt payback), a tactic favoured by most right-wing politicians, from Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush. In fact Mike Harris did both, starve the universities and increase the provincial deficit. But that’s a mere aside in the religious schools debate.

Jack knows very well that funding religious schools is also an economic Pandora’s box, let alone a social one. The current number of 52,000 students currently studying in such schools tells us nothing about how many students will study there if the province decides to pay their tuition. In Ontario there are now only Jewish, Muslim and some Christian schools, all of them in the more extreme spectrum of their respective religious groups. There will almost certainly be many others — Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Buddhist, Sikh, etc., etc. — if the cost disincentives are removed. Some of the cost of their studies will be shifted from the public-school system, but the fragmented system will almost certainly be much more expensive to run than what we have now. As for the decentralization efficiencies that Jack mentions and that I agree with, they can be achieved much more easily within the public-school system, starting with the restoration of the local control that the Harris Conservatives abolished more than 10 years ago.

Which brings us to the fairness argument for funding religious schools. I am trying desperately to understand why it is fair to pay public funds to religious groups to teach mathematics, geography, literature or physics, subjects that have absolutely nothing to do with religion. The answer that
because the Catholics do it, so too must the others, is not good enough. If the justification doesn’t stand on its own, then one should be campaigning to abolish funding for the Catholics as well, not extend it everywhere.

I asked this question of a Jewish friend of mine, who works overtime to send his kids to religious schools all the way through university. He answered: “Because I don’t want to have to explain to my young kid why it is wrong for him to eat a bacon sandwich, as his classmate is doing next to him.” That’s an honest answer, but it is also an excellent argument against the public funding of religious schools. What it says is that these schools are not about religion, they are about socialization, or rather the avoidance of it. Those who send their kids there do it because they don’t want them to mix with the children of people of other backgrounds and religions in multicultural Canada.

There is ample evidence that this is, indeed, what several extremist religious leaders are preaching, certainly among Muslims but also, sadly, among Jews. Radical imams have been reported as urging their followers not to socialize with Christians or Jews. This is the kind of hate preaching that leads to terror attacks. Among the Jews there is a notorious group that is going around comparing intermarriage to the Holocaust, the former being a product of socialization. Quite apart from the fact that such a comparison trivializes the greatest crime of modern times, it is also hate preaching that confuses an act of love like marriage with the supreme actof hate that is the Holocaust.

There is no way that we can guarantee that such opinions will not make their way inside religious schools, even if they operate under public supervision. Besides, in a democratic society people are allowed to hold opinions that are abhorrent to the vast majority of their fellow Canadians. We even allow them to run schools where they can spread such opinions and live according to them. It is, however, suicidal for our multicultural society to pick up the tab.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Jim McAl, after a September 15, 2007 article by Stylianos Perrakis in The Financial Post

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September 13, 2007

Ontario’s Conservatives’ School Plan “..a step backward leading to Charter argument..”

Filed under: Uncategorized — moderator @ 11:31 am

A Conservative election pledge to fund faith-based schools is a legal minefield that, if implemented, could send the province back in time, a leading constitutional expert says.

Lorraine Weinrib
, a law professor at the University of Toronto, is sounding the alarm on a Conservative funding promise that she believes is dangerously unformulated.

“It seems that the proposal really has not been thought out in any detail,” Ms. Weinrib said in an interview.

Conservative leader John Tory has promised a commission to iron out the details of the policy. But Ms. Weinrib said voters are owed the specifics before they decide on the issue.

“I mean, you’re being asked to commit to an incredibly important public policy without knowing what it is.”

However, supporters of Mr. Tory’s proposal say it’s a matter of fairness toward other religions, in a province where Catholics already receive full education funding.

A furore that erupted two weeks ago over creationism offers the first indication of just how problematic the proposal is, Ms. Weinrib said. Mr. Tory was forced to backtrack after saying creationism could be taught at the public, faith-based schools he plans on creating. He later said the religious creation theory, a direct rejection of scientific thought, would be taught only in religion class.

Ms. Weinrib, a former deputy director of constitutional law and policy in the Ontario government, wonders how it is possible to grant schools religious freedom while at the same time controlling which beliefs are taught, and where.

“Let’s say they do teach the regular curriculum in the mornings. What are they teaching in the afternoon? It might be completely inconsistent,” Ms. Weinrib said.

Under the provincial curriculum, students study the “big bang” theory of the origin of the universe in grade nine, and the theory of evolution in grades 11 and 12. Mr. Tory has said one of three conditions for funding is that faith- based schools teach the provincial curriculum.

The Ontario Ministry of Education currently has no policy on how to deal with a school whose teachings of religious dogma directly contradict parts of the provincial curriculum, said ministry spokeswoman Patricia MacNeil.

It’s not a problem in Ontario Catholic schools, which accept evolution and the “big bang,” with God as the force behind these events, said Noel Martin, director of Catholic education for the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association.

Class begins at at The Ottawa Islamic SchoolMohamed Sheikh Ahmed, principal of the Ottawa Islamic School, said he sees no problem in teaching evolution and the “big bang” as scientific theories, while also teaching creation according to Genesis as an article of religious faith

“This is a faith. This is what you believe in. Other people believe in some other things. So there is no problem, there is no confusion here, saying: this is what I believe as your teacher, and this is what the scientific findings are saying,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Darwinism is only a theory…. As a Muslim, I believe in Genesis, but I have no problem teaching evolution as a theory, which is something to discuss. And some people believe in it: scientists, evolutionists believe in it. So there is no problem teaching the curriculum as it is.”

Paul TriemstraPaul Triemstra, principal of the Ottawa Christian School, said his school treats the origin of life and the universe as open questions:

“God created the world. And how he decided to do that, whether he took six, 24-hour days some eight to 10,000 years ago; or whether he did that over billions of years through all kinds of different processes that scientists have looked at and theorized about, that’s a very good discussion.”

The cost of funding faithbased schools is also of concern, Ms. Weinrib said. Mr. Tory’s $400-million price tag assumes that 80 per cent of the roughly 53,000 students currently enrolled in private, faithbased schools will attend the new public schools. Ms. Weinrib believes that’s a vast underestimation.

“There are all sorts of people in every community who simply can’t afford this private religious education,” she said. (Tuition at the private religious schools can run as high as $35,000). “And if it turns out that it’s going to be available for free, they’re going to shift. I mean that’s so obvious.”

That was the case in Ontario Catholic high schools, which saw their numbers triple in their first 15 years of public funding. Originally, Catholic schools were guaranteed funding for the lower grades under the 1867 BNA Act. In 1985, the funding was extended to the end of high school, and enrolment grew to 200,813 in 2000, from 66,840 in 1985, according to government data.

Mr. Triemstra said public funding for other religious schools will allow for a potential growth in students among families with lower incomes, particularly immigrant families.

The $400-million Conservative promise is also only based on operational funding (at about $9,400 per student) to pay for things such as teachers, textbooks and janitors, according to officials. Faith-based schools would not be eligible for the same capital funding that other Ontario public schools receive, Conservatives say.

But Ms. Weinrib said that once brought into the public sphere, those faith groups would have every constitutional right to demand millions for new schools, which cost between $8 million and $35 million depending on their facilities. If they don’t get them, “you’re going to have a Charter argument that there’s discrimination on the basis of religion,” she says. “They’re going to want more. It’s inevitable.”

However, the most serious consequence of the policy is the potentially fragmenting impact it will have on Ontario society, Ms. Weinrib said. She worries it will undo years of progress Ontario has made in moving toward a more secular, inclusive society. Although Mr. Tory frames his policy as an issue of fairness, she said it is actually a powerful wedge issue designed to appeal to voters along religious lines.

“If we’re going to create an education system, I think the last thing we would to do is this. It really seems like a step backward,” she said.

Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Triemstra disagree.

“I don’t believe a bit of that,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Canada is a country of communities. Having our different communities and keeping our own different cultures never makes us any less Canadian…. The real goal behind the whole thing is giving parents a working alternative for how they want to raise up their kids.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.McAll, after a September 13, 2007 article by Lee Greenberg & Kate Jaimet in The Ottawa Citizen

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