A human rights complaint is being filed over a Christian Grace which was said at a City of Saskatoon volunteer dinner. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Grievances hit a new low with complaint about Grace

  • May 8, 2012

The notice to file a human rights complaint over a Christian Grace being said at a City of Saskatoon volunteer dinner is the latest effort to remove even the briefest of faith references from public gatherings.

It would be easy to dismiss Ashu Solo as a crank, and a rather ill-mannered one, since he was among the invitees honoured at a city volunteer appreciation dinner where a blessing said by a city councillor did not meet with his approval. Mr. Solo was invited because of his work on Saskatoon’s cultural diversity and race relations committee. And anyone who thinks “cultural diversity” has something to do with respect for all religions and cultures hasn’t noticed how often the concept is used to remove Christian references from the public square. 

“I was extremely offended by the inclusion of a Christian prayer, which makes non-Christians feel like second-class citizens,” Mr. Solo said in a news release. Earlier, he complained that he felt excluded by the Christian prayer, which he believes has no place at public events, and asked for an apology and an assurance that there won’t be any more prayer at municipal events. As of this writing neither has happened formally, though Mayor Don Atchison did tell reporters he was sorry Mr. Solo had felt excluded.

Unfortunately, a great many of those opposing him on web sites and in letters simply assumed he was an immigrant who should “go back where he came from.” The sentiment is both un-Christian and incorrect — Mr. Solo was born and educated in Canada. Indeed, almost all the challenges to public prayer, and to Christmas concerts in public schools and other faith references and symbols, do seem to come from the Canadian-born. Our culture encourages such complaints, and many immigrants come from atheistic or other non-Christian countries where they’ve seen anti-religious bigotry first hand and know that it can be much more violent than a 30- or 45-second prayer before a meal. It’s precisely because our multicultural society has a strong Christian origin that people can complain freely and be taken seriously.

Having phased out its human rights tribunal, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has the authority to refer grievances to the Court of Queen’s Bench if efforts at mediation and resolution are unsuccessful. Should it get to that point, a judge may well be guided by the fact that most challenges to public prayer result in its elimination.

The Saskatchewan incident occurred not long before the Ontario Human Rights Commission launched its new Policy on Competing Rights, as reported in this newspaper May 6. The policy is meant to help balance competing rights including freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination, as in the hiring rights of faith-based organizations; or the freedom to practice a minority religion while employed in a workplace following the Christian calendar must be respected.

The Catholic Civil Rights League was among the organizations consulted during the creation of this policy. During one workshop, one of my League colleagues noted that most large employers and other organizations, including churches, have internal structures of their own that address high-conflict situations including perceived rights violations. Against that fact, adjudication by a government body could be seen as unwarranted interference, especially in cases involving the interpretation of religious doctrine. Others agreed that government bodies are not usually in the best position to evaluate claims based on religious beliefs and requirements, another good reason for trying to resolve conflicts at the first level, before they escalate to a formal complaint.

The final OHRC policy incorporates most of the recommendations made during consultations. It encourages employers to have processes in place for balancing competing rights, and notes that whether at that level or in a formal complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, claims have to be resolved on a case-by-case basis since no right is absolute and there is no hierarchy of rights; that is, no one human right inherently has priority over another.

As for those who don’t want to say Grace, I suggest a respectful silence is a better option than issuing a press release and contacting a human rights commission. Grace is much less common at gala dinners than it once was, partly because of concerns about “sensitivity” to non-believers. While many Catholics and others find it irritating and yes, offensive, when Christian prayers and symbols are axed so casually, most seem to go along with it. I suspect Mr. Solo could have got what he wanted with a few phone calls.