‘This isn’t supposed to be a Christian country’: Atheist to get human rights hearing against politician’s dinner blessing
A Saskatoon man already fighting Christmas greetings on city buses says the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has agreed to hear his complaint against a city councillor who said grace at a volunteer appreciation banquet.
“This isn’t supposed to be a Christian city or a Christian country. This is a secular nation filled with all kinds of religious and spiritual people, atheists and agnostics,” said local activist Ashu Solo. “We need to respect everybody. We need to protect the rights of the minority from the misdirected will of the majority in a constitutional democracy like Canada.”
Mr. Solo said Tuesday he received a letter from the commission confirming there was enough evidence to suggest a violation of the human rights code.
He filed the complaint on May 1, a month after attending an appreciation banquet as a representative of the city’s Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee.
“Saskatoon’s mayor, Don Atchison, called on Saskatoon councillor Randy Donauer to lead the diverse audience in a Christian prayer,” he said. “I was surprised by that. I thought it was highly inappropriate and highly discriminatory, especially in 2013 in a diverse, multicultural city like Saskatoon.”
“I was surprised by (a public prayer). I thought it was highly discriminatory, especially in a diverse, multicultural city like Saskatoon.”
– Ashu Solo
Mr. Solo, who is an atheist, said he didn’t know the name of the prayer, as he’s not familiar with Christian customs.
“I don’t know the name of the prayer. I understand it’s a prayer that happens before dinner, it’s called grace. I don’t know much about Christianity, I don’t go to church or anything,” he said.
Mr. Solo said he felt it was inappropriate to confront the men during the event, but later sent them an email, copied to the local media, giving them 10 days to agree to refrain from holding future prayer recitations at civic events. He also asked for an apology and an agreement that the city would respect a separation of church and state.
“They didn’t agree with doing that, so then I was left with no choice but to proceed with the complaint,” Mr. Solo said. He hopes to amalgamate this case with another complaint he levelled against the city late last year when he noticed public buses were wishing people “Merry Christmas.”
He felt the use of public property to send religious greetings was tantamount to state support for a single religion to the exclusion of all others. Saskatoon’s city council reviewed the issue and chose to keep the traditional greeting.
On Wednesday, the human rights commission would neither confirm nor deny that it had received Mr. Solo’s complaint. Patricia Warwick, the city solicitor, said the municipality had not yet been served any human rights complaint. She said the city is very familiar with the human rights process.
“We treat [all complaints] seriously. We treat them all formally. We respect the process that the commission takes us through. The results we’ve received from the commission are, generally speaking, extremely favourable for us.”