Terence Wong

See no religion, hear no religion

By  Terence Wong, Youth Speak News
  • March 8, 2013

Updated 03/11/13 - Corrections on volunteer appreciation event title

When in a conversation regarding anything political, I’m often told to keep my religious beliefs to myself and out of the conversation.

I find this ironic. A person or group is using their personal beliefs (or lack thereof) in an attempt to hinder my freedom of speech. Recent news is more or less the same.

Ashu Solo of Saskatoon, who has no religious beliefs, has filed a human rights complaint and written a letter to the city council and mayor complaining that he felt “like a second-class citizen” when a city councillor gave a prayer of grace before the meal at a volunteer appreciation event titled “Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.”

Even if you agree Solo has a point, the extreme reactions of Canadians when it comes to expressions of religious belief in public are rather irrational.

The catchphrase “separation of church and state” is hurled around with about the same level of understanding that’s demonstrated by toddlers mimicking their parents.

The purpose of separating church and state is to prevent either organized religion or the state from taking over the role of the other, thereby safeguarding a number of rights and freedoms, such as those of association, speech and conscience.

What Solo wants is a hostile separation of church and state, whereby the state never tolerates public expressions of belief, but rather contains them like one contains a dangerous substance. The prayer in question that so deeply offended Solo’s atheistic views was not used to spread hate or used to convert the diverse group in attendance. It was a blessing and an expression of a councillor’s belief.

It wasn’t a hostile Christian takeover of government, but an appropriate way to open a prayer breakfast — to pray. No one was forced to pay attention or to repeat the words.

I will concede that perhaps it would have been better to have prayers and blessings that acknowledged the different faiths present at the gathering. But Solo has rejected the mayor’s offer to do just that in order to find common ground.

The position that religion can’t play a role in society as expressed through the beliefs of those holding public office is taken too far these days.

If Solo feels like a second-class citizen whenever a prayer is uttered, I wonder how he would feel if he saw a government official wearing a turban in the Sikh manner.

As an atheist, he should not interpret every public expression of faith as a personal affront.

(Wong, 21, is a fourth-year history and political studies student at Queens University in Kingston, Ont.)


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