Weekly Update: 26-Feb-2022 to 4-Mar-2022

by | March 5, 2022

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] Ontario judge dismisses churches’ challenge against COVID-19 rules

And here’s another one. No surprises here. The decision is more or less the same as we’ve seen in other provinces.

Technically, this decision isn’t about the actual charges those churches (and others) are facing, but rather a challenge to the province’s public health restrictions. In theory, if they won here, the actual charges would be effectively voided, because the basis for the charges requires that the restrictions are valid. Because they lost here, they might still beat the actual charges… they’d just have to find another way to argue the charges are bullshit, because saying they’re unconstitutional won’t work anymore.

It’s noteworthy that the Judge went out of her way to point out the douchebaggery of the churches even as the province was falling over itself to find reasonable accommodations for them. There will have to be a reckoning, at some point, for how much leeway the various premiers gave churches—and only churches—throughout the pandemic.

[] Saudi blogger Raif Badawi still held after completing 10-year jail term

Aaand, Saudi Arabia disappoints me once again.

No, that’s not news. That’s pretty much the norm when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

Last week, I reported on some buzz that Raif Badawi could actually be free soon. I didn’t realize it, but that’s because he’s actually served his full sentence. (Has it really been 10 years?! Wow.) Other than the whipping—which he was spared from the full extent of because that punishment was abolished a few years back—he served the entirety of his unjust sentence* as of March 1st, so even by Saudi Arabia’s fucked up laws, Badawi should be released from prison by now.

* (Well, other than the fact that even after release, he still faces a 10-year travel ban.)

But he hasn’t.

Thus far, no word on why he hasn’t been released. And, unfortunately, the Russia–Ukraine conflict has been eating up the news, burning up the chance to generate awareness and outrage for this injustice.

We need to make some noise both to get Badawi released, and to get him resettled in Canada.

[] ACCtoo calls Anglican Church of Canada to repent for mishandling abuse allegations

While the Catholic Church has—quite rightly—become the figurehead for priestly abuse, particularly of minors, it’s hardly the only religious order with such problems. However, it’s instructive to compare the difference in the ways that different religious organizations have responded to allegations.

This article is about a scandal that has recently unfolded within the Anglican Church of Canada. I don’t have all the details, but it seems to have started when sexual assault survivors tried to get a story published in Anglican Journal, the official newspaper of the ACC.

Now, the background at this point is that these survivors had been fighting for years get accountability from the Church for the abuse they suffered, with little success, so it’s not hard to imagine this article was going to be pointedly critical. For obvious reasons, the survivors were going to be protected—two out of three of them were going to be anonymous, and the details of their experiences were going to be withheld. That would also mean that the offenders were not going to be named, and probably not even the dioceses involved. Everyone—victims, accused, and enablers alike—was going to be allowed to review the final draft, to ensure veracity.

All seemed to be going well… but then at some point, someone—it sounds like the management at Anglican Journal is to blame—leaked an early draft of the article to the dioceses that were accused of enabling or mishandling these assault cases. This early draft was very rough, and definitely not intended for distribution: it apparently contained unredacted survivor accounts copy-pasted from emails.

It sounds like the Anglican Church’s General Synod pressured the Anglican Journal to give them the list of dioceses that were going to be accused—though, not necessarily named—in the article. It’s pretty obvious that they would want this so their legal and communications departments could get ahead of any allegations. But because the article was not even close to ready for that kind of circulation, the actual result is that now the survivors have been effectively outed.

Everyone involved with the article—the journalists and survivors—were understandably outraged at this breach. The Church itself promised an internal investigation, but that seems to have been just blowing smoke and covering their asses.

Now, if this were the Catholic Church, this would probably be the end of the story. This kind of shenanigans is pretty much part for the course; the Catholic Church leadership has a long track record of disrespecting the rights and privacy of abuse survivors, and they just always get away with it. But it turns out that Anglicans actually expect more from their leadership.

So a few months after the scandal initially broke, #ACCtoo was founded, and just a couple of weeks ago, they published an open letter outlining the whole affair… and it’s causing a hell of a stir. The Church itself has tried to play down the letter with a classic not-pology—“we’re so sorry that things didn’t go the way you would have liked”—and offhandedly accused the authors of the letter of lying… pardon me, they used the more genteel term “misrepresentations”. However, in just two weeks or so, over 200 people, including “a significant number of clergy”, have signed on to the letter, which demands that the internal investigation report be published, that the person who leaked the draft should resign, and a public apology.

I’m duly impressed. While Catholics seemed resigned to having a horridly shitty leadership in their church, Anglicans don’t seem ready to stand for that shit. Good on them. I’m watching to see how this unfolds.

[] Resolution introduced in Ohio legislature urges Canada to be placed on religious liberty watch list

This is a Fox News article, so brace yourself for a blast of bullshit. I’m going to clear away enough of it so we can at least get a view of the underlying truth, but there’s a lot of crap in there I just won’t be able to get to.

Okay, so, it was mentioned in a previous Update, that there’s an effort underway among far right US politicians (but I repeat myself) to get Canada put on a watch list for countries that restrict or threaten religious liberties. If that sounds absolutely ridiculous… let me repeat the key word there: US. This effort is entirely within the spectrum of the shit-slinging monkey show that passes for US politics. The monkey most widely associated with it is Josh Hawley, but because there’s not a lot of original thought among the political simps down there, numerous others have echoed the sentiment.

The putative reason for putting Canada on a religious liberties watch list has to do with the fact that some provinces actually charged churches for violating public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yup, that’s it. Note that, as actually mentioned by Judge Pomerance in the Ontario decision mentioned in another item this week, the public health restrictions didn’t actually prevent any religious worship. Churches could still hold services via online, virtual events, or outdoors or in much larger venues to accommodate distancing, or have smaller services with multiple groups rather than one large services, or… or… or… so many options. The only thing the province asked—practically begged—the churches not to do was hold large, in-person, maskless gatherings, because those kinds of events would be very dangerous for spreading the disease… which they were.

While a number of the braindead monkeys muttered about evil, socialist Canada, I believe it was Hawley who fired the first real shot in this new “battle”, when he wrote a letter to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom—the US version of the defunct Office of Religious Freedom that Harper set up here—calling for Canada to be put on their watch list. The USCIRF technically maintains two lists, known by their acronyms: SWL and CPC/EPC. SWL is the “Special Watch List”, for countries where the government engages in or tolerates “severe” violations of religious freedom. CPC/EPC is the “countries/entities of particular concern” list, for countries where the government engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom. I presume Hawley et al. only want Canada on the lesser SWL list… for now… dun, dun, duuunnn!

Hawley’s letter was just that; a letter. This resolution is—I believe—the first time the ploy has actually materialized in an actual legislature. I don’t know what its chances of being adopted are—the bill has 2 authors and 11 sponsors, and the Ohio legislature looks like it has 99 MPs or whatever they call ’em, 64 Republicans and 35 Democrats—but even if adopted, it’s just a parliamentary resolution (or, y’know, whatever the American term is); it’s just a declaration of opinion, and doesn’t actually mean anything.

Still, it’s instructive to look at the text of the resolution to see what’s actually going on here.

The first example of dishonesty in the bill comes right in the summary, which says it wants to add Canada to the Special Watch List of countries…:

… where the government engages in violations of religious freedom.

Did you catch that? Did you notice the little switcheroo they pulled there? Here’s how USCIRF actually describes the Special Watch List, which is for countries…:

… where the government engages in or tolerates “severe” violations of religious freedom.

(The quotes around “severe” are in the original.)

Now, clearly arresting a handful of obviously activist pastors specifically for violations of health orders… while thousands upon thousands of theologically identical churches, often just down the road from the offenders, happily adapted their routines to protect their congregation and others from the pandemic and thus were allowed to practice freely… is hard to call a severe violation of religious freedom. So they quietly drop the word.

Next follows a wall of text that’s all just pointless rambling about religious freedom in the US, with bizarre asides on slavery and other crap. None of it applies to Canada, and even if it did, some of the quotes make a point of noting that it is okay to limit freedom of religion, when it interferes with public well-being. For example the Northwest Ordinance quote makes a point of saying that no-one shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments… provided they behave in a peaceable and orderly manner. The whole point of the arrests referred to later is that they weren’t behaving peacefully or orderly. (They also weren’t “molested” on account of their “mode of worship or religious sentiments”, of course.)

Finally, on line 107, we get to the actual incidents the Ohio MPs are supposed to be concerned about. And what name first appears? Why it’s good old James Coates, of GraceLife Church.

If you don’t remember the name, Coates had a long and storied affair with Alberta Health Services. AHS dillied and dallied and fucked around with all the recalcitrant churches fighting their pandemic health restrictions for many, many months, giving them chance after chance after warning after warning… everything and anything to avoid an actual standoff. Coates claimed a series of religious convictions specifically tailored to thwart every possible accommodation AHS: no, he couldn’t do virtual services because he had a religious conviction that services had to be in-person… no, he couldn’t do multiple, smaller services because he had a religious conviction that there had to be one service, with everybody present… no, he couldn’t have masking or distancing because yadda yadda religious conviction. AHS practically prostrated themselves before him, trying to avoid an actual confrontation… but confrontation was exactly what Coates wanted, so… eventually AHS could no longer avoid actually doing their job. The church was fined, then closed, then Coates himself was charged, had the charges dropped on the provision he complied with health orders (which he openly stated right to their fucking faces that he had no intention of doing), jailed… it was a whole drama. Ultimately, a Judge found that Coates’s religious freedoms had not been violated.

So, as an example of someone who’s been oppressed by a ruthless government bent on crushing religious freedom, Coates leaves a lot to be desired. Bear in mind, too, we’re talking about fucking Alberta here, under Jason Kenney and the UCP. Of all the governments in Canada, Alberta’s is arguably the least oppressive to religion. (Well, at least to the Christian religion.)

(The resolution also mentions the hilarious “underground churches” thing that some of these pastors were doing as part of their persecution LARPing, where Coates (and presumably others), once their churches were closed, moved their services to “clandestine” locations like barns and such. In their minds, they were outsmarting the secular authorities with their secret gatherings… but in reality, everyone knew where the fuck they were and what the fuck they were doing. Journalists were literally gathered outside these barns, photographing everything. (It’s even likely those journalists were called by the offending pastors themselves.) The reason public health authorities didn’t raid these gatherings is for the stupidly simple fact that… so many fewer people were attending that they were now no longer violating capacity limits… and even if they were, it was a moot point, because they’d already slapped the charges and fines on the pastors; jailing them again would just be wasting taxpayer money at this point.)

Anywho, after Coates, the resolution then mentions… Artur and Dawid Pawlowski. (And it looks like they mispelled Dawid’s name.) I mean… ’nuff said, right? As soon as Pawlowskis comes up—either Pawlowski Major (Artur) or Pawlowski Minor (Dawid)—you know you’re dealing with some bullshit. The Pawlowskis are the names behind Street Church Ministries, a hate group that lost its charitable status—under… Harper!—for its virulent anti-LGBTQ2S+ activism. While they were always milking controversy, COVID-19 became a particularly lucrative cash cow. Artur Pawlowski became right-wing-internet-famous after a video of him going apoplectic, screaming red-faced at Alberta Health Services officials trying to serve him notices—not fines or tickets, just a notice that he was breaking the law, with guidelines for how he could comply—calling them “Nazis”.

After that incident, Pawlowski hooked up with the far right in the US, and became a bit of a celebrity among chuds. What he’s been doing can’t even remotely be called “religious practice”… he’s been doing straight-up political activism for months now, with rallies, marches, and other events to protest public health measures both in Canada and the US. That’s why they ended up being arrested: he was trying to organize mask-less rallies and calling on others to break the law.

(This would be the first time he was arrested. Artur (at least, no one really gives a fuck about Dawid) was just recently arrested again, this time for inciting violence at the anti-government trucker convoy occupation at the Coutts border crossing. (Remember, that’s the particular manifestation of the whole trucker occupation thing where people actually brought weapons, looking for blood.) The picture in the article, which they claim is from his 2021 arrest, is actually from the Coutts incident. You can literally see the Deerfoot Trail sign in the upper right. Fox News quality journalism, right?)

So, again, not really a great example of someone being persecuted for their religion. Artur Pawlowski is an unhinged, far-right activist and hate-monger, who was arrested for inciting violence and lawlessness.

The resolution next mentions Tobias Tissen, who… you know, I don’t even know who the fuck that is. Maybe he’s better known in right-wing circles, but he isn’t one of the broadly big name pastors infamous for opposing COVID-19 measures. I guess they just needed a name that wasn’t Albertan, and they didn’t want to use someone like Philip Hutchings from New Brunswick, because he literally asked to be jailed.

The resolution then generalizes the Alberta situation to all of Canada, and then… brings up the conversion therapy ban?! Yup, and check out the flagrant dishonesty in this wording:

WHEREAS, On December 8, 2021, Canada’s Senate Bill C-4 received royal assent and became law. This act is overly broad in scope and has potential negative implications for religious liberties and expression, including a prison sentence of up to five years for merely expressing a biblical view of marriage, thus restricting the ability of religious leaders from expressing sincerely held religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality; and

Amazing, right? Apparently, in Canada all you have to do is “merely express” that you hate gay people, and you go to jail. That’s profound ignorance of both the conversion therapy ban, and Canadian hate speech law in general. (Seriously, I’d have to check, but I don’t think even Bill fucking Whatcott has ever been jailed.) But I expect nothing less than profound ignorance from Republicans, so, it tracks.

As mentioned, this is a go-nowhere resolution from friggin’ Ohio, so it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Even if it passes, it seems unlikely that the federal Commission on International Religious Freedom will take the bait, especially under Biden. But it does give insight into the fever rot infecting the brains of US right-wingers… which unfortunately often gets imported here.

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One thought on “Weekly Update: 26-Feb-2022 to 4-Mar-2022

  1. rj

    What did I just read? Build that wall! seems like its contagious.


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