Ian Bushfield, M.Sc., is the Executive Director of the British Columbia Humanist Association (BCHA). The BCHA has been working to have humanist marriages on the same plane as other marriages in the province. Here we talk about recent updates from the view of the BCHA.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: It has been several months since the last conversation. Let us jump into it. What have been the general trends in British Columbia for the humanist population?
Ian Bushfield: I can only speak broadly, as we don’t get a lot of regular data on the religious and nonreligious make-up of British Columbia. What we do know is that over the past few decades, BC has become increasingly secular where most metrics show a majority of people in the province identify as having no religion and as few as one-in-ten regularly attend religious services.
Within the BC Humanist Association, we’ve continued to see growth throughout 2017 and 2018. Some of our biggest growths in membership and support have come in the past year and we’re really excited to continue that trend through 2018.
Jacobsen: What have been some of the developments in 2018, so far, for the British Columbia Humanist Association?
Bushfield: It’s been interesting for us to watch and start to interact with the new BC Government over the past few months.
Some of it has been promising, like their commitment and consultation around rebuilding the province’s Human Rights Commission, while other issues have been a bit more disappointing, like the continued funding of religious independent schools, possible expansion of faith-based care facilities in Comox and lack of movement on permitting Humanist marriages.
Overall, I think we’re still optimistic that having accomplished much of its election platform in its first year that we’ll be able to start to work with the Government on these and other issues that many Humanists are passionate about.
Jacobsen: What have been some of the more prominent campaigns ongoing into 2018?
Bushfield: What we’re really looking forward to hearing, and this could be any day now, is the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Trinity Western University law school case. We intervened at the Court to argue that organizations shouldn’t be able to claim religious exemptions under Canadian law. If the Court adopts our arguments that will be a big defence in Canadian law against the excesses we’re seeing in the USA following Hobby Lobby.
We are also continuing to follow a number of issues such as access to reproductive healthcare and medical assistance in dying and the pushback by religious fundamentalists to improved sexual and gender education in BC schools.
Jacobsen: What are the expectations for projects and developments for the BCHA within the province for the rest of 2018 and into 2019?
Bushfield: We’re looking at three big campaigns this year.
First, we want to dive headfirst into challenging the nearly half-a-billion dollar giveaway BC provides to private schools. The overwhelming majority of these schools are faith-based and many proudly mix creation in their science classrooms. Overall, these schools segregate students by class and religion, which is antithetical to Humanist values.
Second, we’re starting to do some work on looking at how BC municipalities treat religious property tax exemptions. They have some latitude in how they treat these exemptions and we know that not all towns simply give a blanket exemption to all churches. We’re curious as to what different approaches are out there and have already seen some who provide no exemptions to churches!
Finally, BC is in the midst of an overdose crisis and our governments are starting to take some needed action on this file. We want to make sure the approach we’re taking is based on the best available evidence and respects people’s (non-)religious freedoms.
Jacobsen: What are some concerns in the coming months of 2018 for the non-religious in the province?
Bushfield: In addition to what I’ve already spoken about, we’re watching a couple things.
First, the Government is taking some desperately needed steps to tackle the province’s housing crisis. Toward this end, they’ve committed to working with non-profits, including faith groups, to develop new affordable housing units. We’ve heard in the past that these developments have put vulnerable people at risk of religious coercion.
While we understand the urgency of getting units built, this shouldn’t come at the cost of violating the human rights of the nonreligious, religious minorities or the LGBTQ+ community.
Second, the government will be tabling a bill to create a new Human Rights Commission in the fall. This can be an important institution that acts to proactively protect human rights in the province, including secularism. The devil is going to be in the details so we’ll have to keep our eye on what comes forward.
Jacobsen: What are some concerns in the coming months of 2018 for the non-religious in the nation?
Bushfield: Last year, l we saw the federal government table legislation to finally repeal Canada’s blasphemy law. Unfortunately, that bill has been stalled in the Senate for months now.
We need to continue pressing the government and Senators to move the bill forward and ensure its passage this fall. There’s always a small chance that the government will opt to prorogue Parliament over the summer and that could mean we have to start from square one again.
While we’re on the Senate, the chamber has also created a committee to study Canadian charity law. The BCHA is working with the Canadian Secular Alliance to speak against the current privileged position that religious groups receive under Canadian law.
Between this and the government’s expected response to an expert report on loosening the rules around charities’ political activities, we have a rare opportunity to remake Canada’s charity laws.
Jacobsen: You had a debate, recently. How did you get involved in it? What was the background and topic of the discussion/debate?How do you think it turned out in the end?
Bushfield: This was a really great opportunity that was extended to me by people with Apologetics Canada. Rather than a debate, what myself and Dr. Andy Bannister had was a cordial dialogue on whether Humanism or Christianity provided a better foundation for human rights.
While Dr. Bannister has far more academic training than me in philosophy and apologetics, I tried to present a layman case for the understanding that morality and therefore our contemporary human rights are the result of a cultural evolutionary process and something we can continually build upon.
Dr. Bannister argued that there needs to be some fundamental basis for moral transactions but I couched it in the simple and largely universal approach of the Golden Rule.
In the end, I had a lot more fun than I expected and I encourage people to check out the dialogue on our YouTube channel if they’re curious.
Link to debate here:
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Bushfield: More than anything else, I really want to spend more time talking about the fundamentals of Humanism this year. These campaigns are all obviously important as they aim to make a real difference in the lives of people in BC and across Canada but it’s important to understand why we’re taking these positions. Humanism is pro-human but it isn’t anti-religious. We need to talk more about the things we stand for – human rights, democracy, peace – and not just the things we’re opposed to.
I’m increasingly worried that as a movement we’ve possibly spent too much time on the latter and that’s made some of our spaces less welcoming than we’d want. I think there’s an appetite for the secular, inclusive and progressive message that Humanism can offer and I’m eager to talk more about that.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ian.
Image Credit: Devan Scott.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.