Interview with Celia Anne Scott – Former Board Member, Humanist Canada

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Celia Anne Scott is a Former Board Member of Humanist Canada. She “was appointed a Justice of the Peace when she moved to Nova Scotia in 2016. Previously, she had practiced as a Licenced Wedding Officiant in Ontario. She loves officiating, and gets great pleasure in offering couples the opportunity to create their own unique civil ceremony which reflects their wishes and beliefs. She believes the ceremony needs to be balanced in terms of the serious aspects as well as the more joyful and humorous elements. She is happy to be a support to the couple during the planning stages.”

Here, we talk about her life, work, and views.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was religion part of early life for you?

Celia Anne Scott: It was an integral part of life.  I was raised as a Catholic in Western Scotland. Where I grew up, there is a long history of a religious divide. It is similar to Northern Ireland’s religious sectarianism.  I questioned the whole social structure of Scotland due to this as well as the separate school system which still exists.

Jacobsen: How were young women treated in education in Scotland?

Scott: I had an education in an all-girls Catholic high school. Compared to other girls who went to co-ed schools, there were far more girls who went on to universities and became scientists, medical professionals and teachers than from co-ed schools. I attribute this to the high academic expectations at the school.

Jacobsen: What was early adult life like there for you?

Scott: My post-secondary education was at a university town on the Northeast of Scotland, which had a multicultural student population. There were plenty of students who came from other countries. It was a wonderful experience for me.

It gave me the freedom to go and explore different areas of life. I had never explored like this at home. For example, I was never in another church.  I never had the opportunity to explore other people’s belief systems or to discuss different ‘ways of being’.

When I left home to study I had a major conflict with my father over my thirst for knowledge and alternate ways of thinking. We managed to get past it. Those were extremely formative and informative years for me.

Jacobsen: When questioning the faith, what were some of the questions?

Scott: One event triggered me. My elder sister was getting married to someone who was not Catholic. They were required to promise to raise the children Catholic. My brother-in-law refused to, so the priest refused to marry them.

With the refusal from the priest, they married in the Presbyterian Church, which created a huge crisis in the family. My father forbade our attendance at the wedding ceremony. This was the beginning of real questions for me. It seemed a most ridiculous point of view that another building could not be considered “the house of God”.

My sister was married in January, 1969. The Presbyterian Church did not require non-Catholics to make the same type of promise. Probably, for my siblings and I, this was the beginning of the end. The end of the association with the Catholic Church.

Jacobsen: Did the humanist community find you?

Scott: I went searching. Prior to Canada, I lived in South Africa. I struggled with living there. I felt isolated. I did not belong there. In other words, I became an outsider in Scotland. I was an outsider in South Africa.

I emigrated to Canada with my husband and two daughters in 1988.  I became a clinical social worker. My main focus was in palliative care and chronic illnesses. I attended many of the talks given by the oncologist Dr. Robert Buckman.  He was an inspiring speaker, teacher and broadcaster with TV Ontario.

He became the president of Humanist Canada. He was the key person who provided knowledge about the existence of a humanist organization in Canada.

Now, I am Justice of the Peace in Nova Scotia after being certified as an Officiant with Humanist Canada.

Jacobsen: Do people know the title “humanist officiant”?

Scott: When I told  people, “I am a Humanist Officiant.” They wouldn’t know the word “Humanism.” I saw part of the Officiant role as being a good educator about humanism and secular ceremonies.  I recognize the difficulty as well for Humanist Canada as a national organization because of the large landmass and low-density population.

Many Canadians do not question Christianity in the country. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada opens with a reference to the “supremacy of God.” Also, I realize many Liberals are Catholics.

Jacobsen: Yes, two-thirds of the non-aboriginal population identify as Christian. It is the same for the indigenous population. One in five or about 21% of the Canadian population, according to recent surveys, identifies as young earth creationist.

So, there is an embedment of faith as a stamp alongside the ideas and the worldview. There are many well-endowed and active members of the public who have a certain zeal and fervour.

If you look at the Freedom of Thought Report from Humanists International, formerly International Humanist and Ethical Union, Canada ranked low at 124th. So, if trusting this scale, we are low in free thought.

Scott: We finally had the repeal of the blasphemy law in Canada [Laughing]. It happened last year. It has to do with education. We need investigative minds to question the status quo. Even the skill of critical thinking… It is not taught in the schools.

This was the irony of my Catholic education, it gave me the critical thinking skills and desire for scientific knowledge.  I absolutely loved my high school! When I went into final year, I realized  I couldn’t go back the following year!  I thought, “Oh no! What am I going to do?” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Scott: [Laughing] The science subjects were emphasized. All education was important. There was a strong scientific faculty at my high school. Scientific inquiry from school provided the basis for questioning society. I asked, “What is this belief? This does not hold water.”

I find the free ride for those with religious beliefs annoying.  People think, “You cannot state certain non-religious opinions in the presence of a Christian or a Muslim.”

Jacobsen: You mean social protections. It is remarkable. Someone with a formal religion can state, “That offends me,” “I do not want to talk about that,” “Do not say that,” and so on.  

It is a complete double standard. It goes against their own theology with the parable of the hypocrite or the golden rule. Someone without a formal religion. There will be barriers to direct conversation, sometimes.

Scott: Yes, I know someone who was summarily dismissed from her employment. Why? Because she was an atheist!

Jacobsen: I believe it. Gayle Jordan ran for the state of Tennessee. She was seen as a threat. One public official of the opposition stated, “This is the most dangerous woman that I have seen in 40 years.” She was secular, openly secular.

Scott: I think that in America, someone without a religion, could never be president. They have never elected a woman. They have never elected an openly secular person.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved with Humanist Officiant work?          

Scott: The only province where Humanist Officiants are legally registered to officiate at marriage ceremonies is Ontario. When I moved to Nova Scotia, I had an expectation of attempting to make some change to the situation in the Province. Currently I am the only registered Humanist Officiant in the Province because of my certification with Humanist Canada.  I chose to apply for an appointment as an Administrative Justice of the Peace in order to continue providing couples with the type of marriage ceremony they wish to have.

The Department of Vital Statistics holds the power to licence officiants.  Last year the Department removed the opportunity for ‘single ceremony appoinments’ for those wishing to marry a friend or relative.  Only clergy, or Justices of the Peace can be licenced now.  

In 2016 the Nova Scotia Justice Department put out a call for individuals to apply for JP appointments due to the high demand for non-religious marriage ceremonies. In other provinces, marriage commissioners are appointed, however they are only permitted to charge a very low fee and low charge for travel expenses. Meanwhile, people may live in inaccessible places and have to travel long distances. This is an example of the vast differences which can exist inter-Provincially in Canada. I also think it reflects the domination of religion in Canadian culture and at the various levels of government.  I think this is an opportunity for Humanist Canada to campaign for greater access to alternative rituals and ceremonies.

Jacobsen: What a lovely last line! Thank you much for the time and your opportunity, Celia [Laughing].

Scott: [Laughing] You are welcome, Scott. I do not know how you manage to do all you do.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by Guillaume Jaillet on Unsplash

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