Weekly Update: 16-Oct-2021 to 22-Oct-2021

by | October 23, 2021

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] Religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandate: Here’s what we know, what we don’t

This is a very good article that I highly recommend for its very clear and thorough coverage of religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination. It explains what would “work” as a religious exemption, and what would not, and stresses that getting a religious exemption will not be easy… despite what some atheists still believe.

It even outlines what might happen if you try to claim a religious exemption from mandatory vaccination at work… and it ain’t pretty. You could be forced to sign a detailed affidavit explaining your beliefs… and if you’re caught not being entirely truthful in that affidavit, you’re in for some shit. And your boss can even demand you provide proof of your beliefs, or at least supporting evidence.

This is what anti-religious types don’t understand: Yes, claims for religious accommodation are generally given the benefit of the doubt—they don’t even need to be the “standard” beliefs for a particular sect (so, for example, even if the Pope says vaccination is okay, a Catholic could still say their personal take on the faith says no)—but that only flies up to the point where it creates “undue burden”. In other words, if accommodating someone’s faith is no big deal… then it will be no big deal. (And, in practice, this is usually the case. For example, allowing a slight modification to a uniform is generally no big deal.) But where there is undue burden, then no, simply having a religious belief does not give you a magic get-out-of-obligation card.

With COVID-19, we’re talking about a disease that kills people. So the burden here is extremely high. That’s why, as the article goes out of its way several times to stress, there really isn’t much chance of getting a religious exemption in this case.

I am fascinated with how much attention religious accommodation has gotten in the media, thanks to COVID-19. I am also fascinated… though, not entirely surprised… at how little leeway Canadians are willing to give to attempts to use religion as an excuse for not vaccinating, or following public health orders. The reason I’m not surprised is because while Canadians are generally inclined to give religion far more deference than it deserves, they are far more inclined to follow the law and do what’s best for the community as a whole. In the tug-of-war between personal religious liberty and public health, there’s just no contest in Canada (unlike how things may be in the US).

Still, it will be interesting to see the long-term effects this will have on the amount and kinds of deference Canadians will give to religion.

[] Ravi Zacharias’s Daughter Steps Down to Launch New Ministry

The slow implosion of Ravi Zacharias Ministries continues.

We heard previously that Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) was facing a landmark class-action lawsuit by former donors, demanding their donations back after discovering that RZIM knew about and was covering up accusations against Ravi Zacharias. That’s still underway, but RZIM has read the proverbial writing on the wall, realized the toxicity of their namesake, and announced they are “rebranding”.

Well, now Sarah Davis, the former CEO of RZIM, has quit to start her own ministry. Or has she? More on that in a sec.

Now, Davis is Zacharias’s daughter, and… at first… she seemed to be one of the few sensible and ethical voices at RZIM. She went public with unreserved apologies for what her father had done, and for the ministry’s part in enabling him and covering it up. She also arranged for investigations into exactly what went down and how much RZIM was involved. (She had previously overseen the original investigation that revealed that the accusations against Zacharias were true.)

If all that makes Davis sound cool… certainly much better than Zacharias’s other kids, who have circled the wagons and defended their dad… here’s where I have to pull the rug out. Because while Davis did all the right things publicly… insiders claim that internally she was whistling a very different tune. Far from encouraging the investigations, she was, in fact, fighting them at every step, or at least insisting their findings should be kept secret.

And now this move to create a new ministry, which could be spun as an attempt to repudiate the unethical ministry her father made… really isn’t any of that. Instead, as Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist explains… it’s hardly a “new” ministry. It’s really just RZIM with a fresh coat of paint. They’re even going to be using RZIM’s money.

And that’s not even the smarmiest thing about it. Davis openly admits she doesn’t really give a fuck about evangelizing. So why is she creating her own ministry? Isn’t the answer obvious? She’s gotten used to the sweet cash that comes with the Jesus griftin’ racket her father introduced her to.

[] WTF (Weird, That’s Funded?): Creationism

The BCHA is doing a three-part series titled WTF… which stands for “Weird, That’s Funded?”… about public funding of private, mostly religious, schools. The focus is on the weird, stupid, and offensive stuff these schools are teaching, and the underlying question is whether it is kosher for the government to be funding these kinds of things.

So far, parts 1 and 2 are up. Part 1 is about schools teaching creationism, despite the fact that evolution is part of the basic curriculum that private schools are supposed to follow to qualify for public funds. As the article notes, the rules technically allow the schools to teach creationism in addition to evolution, or to teach evolution in “innovative” ways… but they found several that just flat out state they don’t to teach evolution at all.

Part 2 is about homophobia. It’s not really surprising that several schools have statements that denounce homosexuality. What did raise my eyebrow is that some of them even suggest that they will monitor the students’ private activities. As the article notes, this is the same province that houses Trinity Western University, which not too long ago lost a landmark Supreme Court case for doing exactly this kind of crap. (Though, to be fair, the details of the case means the decision doesn’t really apply to these schools.)

For me, who is used to reading/writing stories about private (almost always Christian) schools involved in this kind of discrimination, and anti-science nonsense, the details of the shenanigans the schools are getting up to were not really news. What was shocking, though, is just how much money the BC government is giving to each of these schools. Some of them are getting millions of dollars to discriminate or teach nonsense. Some of those getting millions of dollars are not even brick-and-mortar schools; they’re online schools. One has to assume that there is no-one in the BC government monitoring these schools to make sure they’re even following what minimal rules they’re supposed to.

I can’t wait for the third part.

[] Manitoba judge denies constitutional challenge ban on in-person religious services over COVID-19

Another major ruling about COVID-19 public health restrictions. This is the one that John Carpay and his Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms was championing for over a half-dozen churches.

Nobody is really surprised by the result.

This isn’t the first ruling that upholds the power of public health authorities to restrict in-person religious gatherings during the pandemic. But as the article notes, this one is perhaps the most interesting so far.

One of the reasons it’s so interesting is because this is, perhaps, the first major ruling that actually took “scientific” arguments into account. Most challenges have centred around “religious freedom” arguments, and this one certainly featured those, too. But this case had the novelty of also having the argument made that the public health restrictions are not scientifically justified. In other words, they tried to argue that even if COVID-19 is a real threat, and even if public health authorities legitimately have the power to institute legally-enforceable restrictions, these restrictions are going too far, because they could effectively fight COVID-19 with less restrictive means.

Obviously it didn’t work, and amusingly, Chief Justice Joyal tore the JCCF’s alternative to shreds, calling it both impractical and unethical.

The other reason this case is so interesting is because of all the drama leading up to it. This is the case that got Carpay into hot water for hiring goons to tail Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, and other public health officials and safety officers.

(As an interesting aside, I hadn’t heard that Carpay is back in control of the JCCF, and apparently neither had the journalist writing the article. Carpay “took a leave” after it was revealed he had hired goons to tail Chief Justice Glenn Joyal (and several others), despite having multiple cases set to be heard by Joyal. That leave was apparently just a couple weeks, barely a blip. I don’t think anyone even noticed he was gone.)

[] Case against COVID-19 restrictions a lesson in rights vs. privilege: human rights museum CEO

I find I’m liking Isha Khan more and more. She not only clearly understands the very complex topic of human rights, she has a talent for explaining it well, and a willingness to speak out on public platforms. My only complaint about this interview is that it is so watered down—par for the course for most CBC interview articles, and interviews in general—but she still manages to get a few key points across.

There are two main ideas one should take away from this interview. The first is that discrimination isn’t merely being “singled out” for whatever reason. Discrimination is about differential treatment based on core characteristics (sex, age, race, etc.). I wish Khan had been allowed to go into more detail, because there are a few important points I would add. The first is that not all discrimination is bad; it is possible to have justified discrimination… but of course the requirement for that is that you have to provide the justification, and it has to stand up to scrutiny. Another point I’d add is that you don’t get to decide that you are being discriminated against… for example, if a public health order bans in-person gatherings, you don’t get to decide that because you want to link in-person gatherings to your faith, that means that public health authorities are targeting your faith; if public health authorities don’t actually give a shit about your faith, and all in-person gatherings are banned, and there’s a solid reason for it, then it’s not discrimination.

The other main idea is that not everything that negatively impacts you is a violation of your rights. You don’t have a right to have everything go the way you want it to. Rights are deep, important, and powerful concepts. It’s sad that most Canadians have such a frivolous understanding of them.

[] Saint John pastor released from jail after once again agreeing to follow COVID protocols

What the fuck?!

I covered the background of this story in detail last week, so I’m not going to repeat it. I will add something that wasn’t mentioned last time: in addition to all the other shit Philip Hutchings did, he also encouraged his goons to harass public health officials. (Which they did, as the videos show.)

Last week I also mentioned that I could understand the position of public health officials and judges who kept giving recalcitrant preachers more and more rope to hang themselves with. But there comes a point where it’s just gone too far.

Hutchings was released… again… after promising… again… to comply with public health orders.

Again.

Even the Judge seems fed up with the case. He told Hutchings’s lawyer that Hutchings has had far more chances than any one should be given, and he point-blank challenged Hutchings about his duplicity.

Yet he gave Hutchings another chance.

Maybe the Judge just figures that locking Hutchings up for the long term would ultimately just be more trouble than its worth. But I have a hard time believing that the Canadian “justice” system would be this lenient if Hutchings were anything other than a white Christian.

None of this means that Hutchings’s troubles are over, though. He and the rest of his church leadership are all still facing a raft of charges. (All the drama with locking Hutchings up was based on charges directed at Hutchings personally; the charges against the Church are another matter.) And the Church building is locked up.

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