Atheist Complains to Human Rights Commission About ‘Merry Christmas’ Sign on Bus

The city buses in Saskatoon (in Saskatchewan, Canada) have a very offensive message on them. Are you ready to see it? Don’t say I didn’t warn you:


On Monday, activist Ashu Solo — who previously complained about something else I didn’t think was a big deal — complained about the bus signs, saying they were discriminatory:

Solo vowed to take the matter to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, claiming the Christmas greetings violate his right to be free from religion.

He said the salutation also favours Christianity over other religions, which is particularly problematic for Saskatoon’s immigrant community, many of whom rely on bus service.

“Christmas messages on Saskatoon Transit buses make them feel like they need to convert to Christianity to be first-class citizens,” he wrote in a complaint.

“Therefore, the Christmas messages on Saskatoon Transit buses are a forcible attempt at Christian indoctrination.”

… the hell? Since when does a sign reading “Merry Christmas” make any atheist feel like a second-class citizen?

We mock Christians who freak out about someone saying “Happy Holidays.” But it’s not much different when an atheist freaks out over a sign reading “Merry Christmas.”

Before you agree, though, Solo does have a point. Kind of. If this is government transportation, should they really be promoting only one religion’s holiday? Just like his last complaint, I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t think the transit leaders were intentionally trying to force Christianity upon the masses. Still, they ought to be educated about what they’re doing wrong, and Solo, while over the top, is giving them the lesson they need.

The local councillors had two options: Include additional holiday messages that are more inclusive of a diverse population — which Ward 4 Councillor Troy Davies said he was ok with — or get rid of the messages altogether since you can never include *every* holiday — which is what Solo wanted.

So what did they end up doing? The councillors voted on the former option:

Politicians in Saskatoon have decided to keep showing the message “Merry Christmas” on transit city buses, although they will also be showing additional messages of “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”.

Solo will inevitably argue this is still a problem. But I see it as a win-win. The city expanded its transit messages and the persistent Solo came away with a victory. Sure, it’d be even better if the messages read “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Solstice” as well, but I’ll take “Seasons Greetings” any day.

(Thanks to Kelly for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Crazy Russian

    Okay, this is ridiculous. Christmas is a national holiday, like it or not. Not Hanukkah, not Solstice, not Yuletide. This will be laughed out of any court, and rightly so. “Happy holidays” would indeed be a better greeting as more inclusive, but in no way the transportation authority is obligated to say so. Why Christmas is considered a national holiday, is another matter, though, but this is a wrong place to fight it.

  • Andrea Crain

    Hanukkah’s already over.

  • ortcutt

    “Merry Christmas” is offensive to those of us who worship Her Boxiness on Boxing Day.  Keep the Box in Boxing Day.

  • Richard Tingley

    We seriously need to start pimp slapping people that do this. All it does is trivialize our position when there is a real violation of church and state.

  • Cdahumanist

    This kind of thing only serves us atheists look like total asshats.

  • Cdahumanist

     This kind of thing only serves to make us atheists look like total asshats.

  • Shoebutton

    Don’t be too hard on us. Right now we are fighting a federal government that seems to be doing things that would make George W. blush.

  • Rain

    But they ought to be “educated” about what they are doin rong! He’s giving them “lessons”!

  • Chris Warren

    Raising this issue to the level of a human rights complaint is certainly ridiculous, and it boxes us into a typical caricature of what atheism is generally made out to be. The real meat of this story lies not in the complaint itself however, but in the public’s responses to it on Facebook (The Calgary Herald, I believe), and no doubt elsewhere in Canadian media. Wow. The vehemence towards this issue, and secularism in general, is absolutely astounding. I honestly had no idea there existed such pervasive ignorance in what I assumed to be a relatively progressive country, and I just as well might have been sampling opinions from the bible belt. There were multiple calls for non-Christians to effectively vacate the country. Such a shame. 

    As if all that wasn’t bad enough, you should have seen the atrocious grammar and spelling I found on Facebook! WTF! We have inline spell check for Christs sake! 

  • TiltedHorizon

    IMHO, Christmas is about Santa, presents, decorated trees, family, eggnog, ugly xmas sweaters, inedible fruit cake,  sappy music, kissing under the mistletoe, last minute shopping sales, and driving to several different houses to drop off gifts. Whatever role Jesus had in this holiday has been replaced by commercialization and nonreligious festivities. (based on how I see my religious friends celebrating) Therefore if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I wish it back, it is not a ‘religious’ endorsement. These days, unless someone goes out of their way to emphasize the diminishing role religion plays in Christmas, I roll with it and save the arguments for clearer violations of Church & State.

  • Don

    It’s pretty sad when the atheists have just as nasty bullshit to say about this as the xtians do. Are we against these stupid motherfuckers or not?!?!?!? Are we trying to educate these stupid motherfuckers or not?!?!?! Then just off your fucking lazy asses and help instead of criticizing people that are doing something! It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a ‘small’ thing or not; xtianity brainwashing has crept into society and it needs to extricated!!!

  • Don

    And thank you Hemant Mehta for writing a better article than the one that showed up on Yahoo which was just making fun of atheists.

  • coyotenose


    Smithers… release the hounds.

  • Don
  • coyotenose

     It’s a teeny bit amusing to see someone coming to THIS blog to call people lazy and say they aren’t doing anything.

    *flicks his eyes repeatedly in the direction of Hemant’s resume and coughs*

  • coyotenose

    What! Canadians all have great grammar and are unfailingly polite, according to television. I call shenanigans!

  • jose

    Someone link the appropriate Harrison Ford gif plz

  • GodlessPoutine

    I had mixed feelings too.  I think his approach was all wrong.

    Look what the city councillor said though:

    “My first reaction was this is not something that I’m going to support whatsoever. The term Merry Christmas is more than just a word, there’s a whole meaning behind it,” he said.

    Still, his reaction is way way off.  CFI Canada has released a response to this and the pundits on SunNews (our FoxNews equivalent) are already jumping all over this and trying to whip their viewers into a frenzy.

    Anyway, I see the point behind his complaint… but his approach is not how I would go about it at all.

  • crb

    Having recently lived in Saskatoon I have seen this on the buses. I also see it in many cities. The major problem is, in Canada, there is no explicit statement of church / state separation as much as some people may hope for (such as Solo) so there is likely more push back from complaints. In many cities in Canada, there is what is known as the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast (or some other such name). Some people have complained and the name of the breakfast has been changed but the mayor is still a major player.
    All I have to say is “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Festivus”

  • Birdie1986

    I would agree with you if I still lived in the North.  In the South, they say Merry CHRISTmas.  Usually, it is accompanied by something like “Have a Blessed Day.”  Ugh.

  • m6wg4bxw

    Not sure which one. Is it “who gives a shit?”

  • OverlappingMagisteria

     A black-and-white, us vs. them attitude is never healthy. I’m against any type of “mother-fucker” whether its a Christian or an atheist. Mr. Solo is being over-dramatic and making atheists look like litigious whiners and I’m not going to support him just because he’s on “our team.”

  • SeekerLancer

    And this is why people think we’re petty assholes.

  • SeekerLancer

    The first time I got wished a blessed day was in Texas. It wasn’t a big deal or anything but  being from the north I just never heard somebody say that to me before and I was like, “Wha?” I’m sure it was a very awkward moment for the cashier too.

  • Gay Apparel

    Tell them “Merry christMAS” back—usually it’s Protestants that say that, and they are vehemently against the Catholic ritual of “Mass” that is in the very word Christmas.

  • Gay Apparel

    I’ve come to realize that most people merely feign giving a shit about Hanukkah, as fodder for “It isn’t only Christmas, Hanukkah is also occurring…”. They could care less whether Hanukkah has already ended or not.

  • Gay Apparel

    Getting rid of prayer is fine, but don’t fuck with Christmas. That holiday is awesome, regardless of its Christian or pagan history.

    All I have to say is Happy Saturnalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Yule and Merry Christmas.

  • Gay Apparel

    Note the top comment though, which basically says “I’m an atheist and I love Christmas, the complainer is a douche”.

  • Gay Apparel

    Except for the part where Christmas is a kick-ass holiday, you fucking obtuse cunt.

  • coyotenose

    Related to that, if anyone down South ever tells you “Bless your heart”, it actually means “Fuck you.” And the sweeter we they say it, the viler they mean it.

  • coyotenose

     Thank you.

  • TychaBrahe

    If you’re an atheist who celebrates Christmas, stop for a moment and think about what it would feel like if you weren’t.  What if you were Hindu or Muslim or Jewish or Zoroastrian?  What if you spend weeks being made painfully aware of the fact that no one does anything like this on *your* holidays.  There are no lights put up for Naw-Ruz or Holi, no special music played to mark Purim or Eid Mubarak.  No one gives a crap about you, although you work just as hard and pay just as much taxes…and those taxes are going to subsidize the bus system you are currently riding in that is ignoring you.

    It’s not like there isn’t some other phrase, written in the same English language syllables, that could be used to express joy in all kinds of holidays that happen at this time of here, from Hanukkah to Christmas to Bodhi Day to New Year’s Day to Yule to Yalda.  It’s not like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” is really offensive, no matter how much pretend it is.

  • TerranRich

    To those people who, in the past, have complained about certain legal issues not being worth our time… THIS is a perfect example of an issue that is NOT worth our time. Refer to this scenario the next time you want to say that a fight is not worth fighting. Fighting a nativity scene on government-owned property? Worth it. “Merry Christmas” greeting on a bus display? Not worth it.

  • Rich Wilson
  • Noelle

    But it is Christmas. It’s also Canada, so aren’t they required by law to put in Joyeux Noel too?

    I missed the part where I was supposed to be offended by every day that happens to get its name from a god. Why am I not on the atheist newsletter mailing list? To think, I’ve been saying Merry Christmas this entire time, even to fellow atheists. For shame.

  • Rich Wilson

    Thank God it’s Odin’s day.

  • Gay Apparel

    Didn’t you read the whole article, it says they are also showing messages of “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”. Is that satisfactory to you, or would you still rather they not display the “Merry Christmas” one at all?

  • A3Kr0n

    I just think “long weekend ahead!”
    And there’s a blizzard about to cross the illi/wis border which is 15 miles from here.
    (you did not see me write that)

  • Gay Apparel

    Exactly, it’s very offensive and I demand our governments remove pagan gods from the days of the week as well… hello! This is a secular country!!111

    Happy or non-happy Common Day #2, Common Month #12 Common Day #25, 2012 of the Common Era!

    PS — “Noelle”, you may consider changing your given name to “French-language feminine term for a Northern Hemisphere winter solstice and Southern Hemisphere summer solstice-timed festival”.

  • MegaZeusThor

    “Merry Christmas” doesn’t bother me.

    That said, it can be pretty annoying when you’re trying to spot the right bus and they’re busy cycling through happy messages instead of saying which bus it is.

  • Noelle

    People always get those hyphenated names wrong.

  • Pureone

    I thought we were waging a war on Christmas and using the term Merry Christmas in order to make it more secular- like (St.) Valentines Day, Oestra, and  Halloween.  I know I am, and I make sure to mention some non-religious part of the Holiday- “Take it easy on teh Egg-Nog” or some such.

  • jose

    Yeah that one :D Grumpy Ford is what we need

  • DougI

    Next Solo will be putting a bumper sticker on his car “17/12/12 Never Forget” for it’s the day he was met with a life changing event, a bus sign said ‘Merry Christmas’. Oh the horror, the calamity, how will we ever recover?

    Thank goodness Canada has a good health care system. The years of physical and mental therapy it will take for him to recover…I just can’t imagine what he’s going through. The other day I thought I heard the song ‘jingle bells’ and my knees buckled and instantly the PTSD hit and I lay in a fetal position crying. Thankfully it was just the bell on my cat’s collar

    Now is the time for all of us to gather together, comfort a loved one, reach out to a stranger. It’s tragedies like this that bring us together so we can remember what makes us strong as a nation. It’s for all of us to stand strong in the face of adversary so we will never again have to face the unparalleled horrors and atrocities of bus signs saying ‘Merry Christmas’.

  • MichaelBrice

    Canada may be a little different from the states, we are not (last time I checked) under attack by a highly organized political party who represent the fundamentalist christian taliban and whose ultimate intention is to create a christian state.

    Although our constitution starts with the unfortunate preamble “Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God* and the rule of law:” most political parties and politicians stay away from promotion of religion in the political arena. I think there is one party that wants to make canada a christian theocracy but I am not sure they are able to run any candidates nationally. As an aside to my fellow canajans, I note that 40 years ago nobody in the US could have imagined the degree of infiltration of the political system by the christian taliban, it could happen here. But I digress.

    So, to the story, what’s the point Mr. Solo? This is Canada and nobody gives a fuck about signs that say merry christmas, blessed Eid, happy Diwali or have a season of reason. We are a pretty inclusive country Mr. Solo, it’s not like you are forced to be christian or persecuted by the state for being Jewish, Muslim or Atheist, (at least not yet – see caution in previous paragraph).

    In fact we are so fucking inclusive and polite in Canada that we have set up human rights commissions so that a clowntrousers like Mr. Solo can make his silly complaint public and revel in the oppression and victimhood that this bus sign has wrought upon him, and perhaps benefit financially if the HRC rules he has suffered damages. He can also have all of this without paying a penny – the HRC covers his costs – while the subject of the complaint is forced to use their own funds to defend any action against them. Asshats like Solo use the HRC’s as a blunt instrument to extort money using government resources to achieve their goal.

    I live in Alberta, we recently trashed our HRC, however other provinces retain these kangaroo courts (apologies to any marsupial readers). Currently in British Columbia an albino African woman is using the HRC to sue a company that makes ‘Albino Rhino Ale’. The company has made the beer for 25 years or so, probably since before the complainant was born or emigrated to Canada. And, WTF, isn’t that at the very worst (assuming albino is a pejorative term) making fun of rhino’s and not africans? What next? St. Paulie Girl is sexist? Old Milwaukee Ale is ageist? Cafe Negro beer is racist?

    In Ottawa a woman entered a halal muslim barber shop and asked for a haircut knowing full well that their religious beliefs would not permit them to comply. They were (according to media reports) respectful and apologetic and suggested alternatives to the wannabee client. Result, a complaint to the HRC and grief for the barber shop. In my province a local publisher spent $250K to defend himself after printing the ‘Danish cartoons’. Madness I tells ya!

    Anyway, my point is that these petty complaints make we atheists look pretty douchy and small minded. The transit company has agreed to run alternate messages, sounds to me like an equitable compromise – pretty canadian if you ask me.

    Yours truly


    (that piece of land you have to drive through to get to Alaska, the country where half your NFL placekickers come from, and the country that has extra “u’s” in their words.)

    * Interestingly it doesn’t tell us which god is supreme.

  • Ramble

    I have mixed feelings too. I am an atheist who celebrates Christmas, but that’s because I grew up with it and it’s part of my culture. If it’s never been part of Mr. Solo’s culture, I can sort of understand how he might find it intrusive. If a bus was flashing ‘Happy Ramadan’ at me, I’d find it a bit strange. I mean, I don’t think it’s a human rights violation, really, but he’s still got a right to complain.

    ‘Seasons greetings’ and ‘happy holidays’ are better but it’s still a reminder that this season is considered special, and if you don’t agree with the reason it’s special, you might feel a bit isolated.

    On the other hand, the majority of the people in Canada probably do celebrate Christmas and seeing ‘Merry Christmas’ on a bus is likely to make them happy, so it wouldn’t be fair for the company to have to stop doing it when most of their customers like it.

    And if this is the only problem atheists in Canada have, they’re a lucky bunch.

  • Away in a manger

    Surely that’s a matter of opinion though? I’ve never been able to see what damage a nativity scene does anyone. I find them pretty.

    Things I think are important are atheists in the military being allowed to have their own groups, evolution being taught in schools, women being given equal rights and gays being allowed to marry each other. Nativity scenes don’t keep me awake at night.

    But everyone is different and cares about different things. If it’s important enough to Mr. Solo that he feels like complaining, that’s his choice. It’s not like there’s an atheist creed we all have to agree to.

  • Guest

    One atheist complains and we all get blamed. Typical.

  • bernardaB

    “Happy Hanukkah” is not a message to be propagated by public services or anyone. Christopher Hitchens showed that in his Slate article “Bah, Hanukkah, The holiday celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness”. There is nothing “happy” about Hanukkah.

    “Jewish orthodoxy possesses the interesting feature of naming and combating the idea of the apikoros or “Epicurean”—the intellectual renegade who prefers Athens to
    Jerusalem and the schools of philosophy to the grim old routines of the

    “Thus, to celebrate Hanukkah is to celebrate not just the triumph of
    tribal Jewish backwardness but also the accidental birth of Judaism’s
    bastard child in the shape of Christianity. You might think that
    masochism could do no more. Except that it always can.”

  • JesseS

    I’m surprissed the tribunal did anything. Canada doesn’t have separation of church and state. Nowwhere in our Constitution or Charter is it listed. This is why we still have a publicly funded Catholic School board.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I had a guy wearing a white wifebeater ride toward me on a bicycle. When he was at arm’s length, he raised one fist in the air and said, “Praise the Lord, brother! Have a blessed day.” And kept on riding. This was on my very first day in Houston.

  • Patterrssonn

    “we are not (last time I checked) under attack by a highly organized political party who represent the fundamentalist christian taliban and whose ultimate intention is to create a christian state.”

    Has Harper resigned?

  • Patterrssonn

    Since he’s Canadian it would be 12-12-17. Guess it’s too late to send a Christmas card, but maybe I’ll put him on my list for next year.

  • Witchgawd

    Funny, people celebrate all kinds of religious holidays and I’ve never once been offended. Grinch.

  • Witchgawd

    From an atheist to the Grinch. Merry Christmas Mr. Solo! Try not to have too much fun this holiday season. Dick.

  • Tom Flynn

    I’m with Mr. Solo. “Merry Christmas” clearly endorses Christianity over other religions and over no religion — if you can’t see why, read the word’s first syllable very, v-e-r-y slowly — and whether in the US or Canada, government shouldn’t be engaged in that. I’ve been ignoring the holiday for 28 years now, so I’ve built thick calluses, but I remember the first few years after I went “Yule free,” when a public “Merry Christmas” was quite disturbing and sent an unmistakable message that if I didn’t celebrate Jesus’s birthday I was a second-class citizen. Mr. Solo was right on. I applaud his modest victory but hope he’ll keep pushing for real fairness, which would be no holiday signage on public transit. These symbolism cases really do matter, both to atheists and to devout non-Christians, and the only way this wheel will get greased is if lots of us keep reliably, continually squeaking.
    Tom Flynn
    Author, “The Trouble with Christmas”

  • Rob Jackson

    I am not an Atheist, nor am I Christian. I appreciate that your attitude is that being inclusive is an option. Far too often we hear from Atheists who only want religious expression halted instead of giving equal time to all.

  • Rob Jackson

    The only question I have to that is, what is a real violation of church and state? Is giving a never ending permit to a group to put up a war memorial on federal land OK? If they choose to put a cross up as part of it, it that OK? I am not trying to stir the pot, but it is my opinion that a cross or star of David on a piece of federal property, when not erected by the government but instead by a private group given a permit they paid for, it not an endorsement of a religion by government. I understand that people may perceive that the government put it there, but in almost every other legal circumstance perception is not valid, so why should we make an exception for religion? As a non Christian, I simply ignore religious symbols, I suggest that if more people did, some of the people who get really mad would find life more enjoyable.

  • Chappy

    Is there a mentoring program for immature atheists?

  • justin99

    get a life! if Merry Christmas is offensive, gay flag is also offensive! Just because someone doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean the world has to change to accommodate their sensitive self. If the atheist can put up their stupid sign on a bus, they should just shut their broccoli hole when Merry Christmas is displayed on a bus.

  • Guest

    ^ This.