A couple of weeks ago, Canada opened up an “Office of Religious Freedom” with a three-pronged mandate:

  • protect, and advocate on behalf of, religious minorities under threat;
  • oppose religious hatred and intolerance; and
  • promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.

At the outset, that doesn’t sound too bad. Hell, Sanal Edamaruku and Alexander Aan and Alber Saber could use some help!

So where’s the problem?

Well, check out a speech made last September by John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Relations, whose office is responsible for the new Office of Religious Freedom:

We strongly condemn all attacks on places of worship, whether at temples, synagogues, shrines, mosques, gurdwaras, or churches. It is of utmost importance that every individual is able to practice their faith in safety and security.

Time and time again, Canada has spoken out against discrimination, and violations of freedom, including freedom of religion.

We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defense in the same way persecuted religious minorities are.

We speak of the right to worship and practice in peace, not the right to stay away from places of worship.

There’s also the fact that the government made no effort to include non-believers as consultants in forming the new office.

If you look at the news releases regarding religious freedom, the names of persecuted atheists are found nowhere.

And now, the backlash is growing.

The Centre For Inquiry Canada has made this video detailing the problems with this new office and the government’s complete lack of concern for (or even acknowledgment of) atheists who suffer at the hands of the religious:

All they’re looking for is inclusion. You can’t say you’re working for religious freedom and then ignore the plight of many atheists worldwide.

CFI Ottawa has a sample letter for Canadians to send to their officials. It reads in part:

The Office of Religious Freedom mandate does not include mention of the non-religious or those with no religious belief. Yet there are many non-believers around the world who are subject to persecution and serious violations of their human rights, including unjust imprisonment, beatings, and even execution. I would like to see the Office’s mandate extended to include protection and equal treatment for non-religious people and groups in Canada and around the world. The Office should begin by giving a voice to Canadian secular, humanist and atheist groups by inviting them to advise the Government of Canada “on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming relating to protecting and advocating on behalf of non-religious minorities under threat.”

Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun is arguing for atheists’ inclusion, too:

The Conservative government is following the lead of the U.S. and establishing a $5 million office, run by a Roman Catholic academic, to speak out for religious freedom around the world. There is no doubt religious repression is rising in a number of places.

But will the new office be fair to all, including atheists?

That’s what many are asking, given that the Conservative government consulted mostly conservative Christians before unveiling the office.

Much like the U.S. Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, atheists are treated as if we don’t exist, even when the evidence for real, serious atheist persecution is all around us.

As always, we’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for equal treatment. I’m used to this sort of stuff happening in my country, but I thought Canada was supposed to be better.

For more on the subject, Godless Poutine has been writing multiple posts about the Office of Religious Freedom over the past several weeks and is a fantastic source of information.

(Thanks to Sean for the link!)

As mentioned by Hemant back in November, New Humanist runs a poll every year known as the “Bad Faith Awards.” Readers vote for the person (or group) who has done the best to show the very worst of his/her faith over the past year.

Well, the votes are finally in and the 2012 New Humanist Bad Faith Award goes to (drumroll please!)… Todd Akin!

Bad Faith Awards Results (via New Humanist)

Prince Charles and The Catholic Authorities of Mumbai (who went after Indian skeptic Sanal Edamaruku for exposing one of their lies) were both running close to Akin for a while but he ultimately pulled away from the pack to claim a well-deserved victory.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Akin and his unconventional views of medical science and the female body, but it was the following statement uttered during an interview that clinched this year’s prize:

From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Akin later apologized, but the damage had already been done. Those comments ultimately cost him the race for the Senate seat in Missouri. It also perpetuated the notion of a so-called Republican “War on Women.” Who knows how many people were driven to vote for Barack Obama in the Presidential election because of the aftermath of this comment.

Akin is now in illustrious company as he joins such Bad Faith luminaries as Nadine Dorries, Pope Benedict XVI and Sarah Palin.

Nominations for 2013 are now open and will be for the next year. If you have any nominations over the course of it, all you have to do is make a case for that person via email to editor@newhumanist.org.uk.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an update to the story of Sanal Edamaruku, head of the Indian based Rationalist International, who has been forced into hiding in Finland.

In case you forgot, Sanal had debunked a supposed “miracle” at a Catholic church in Mumbai and faced arrest for “deliberately hurting religious feelings.” Sanal has said repeatedly that he would welcome being charged and put on trial as it would be a chance to put some of his accusers and officials of the Church and Diocese on the witness stand.

Sanal Edamaruku (via wissenrockt.de)

This issue at stake is the notion of “anticipatory bail.” Sanal is basically seeking assurances that when he is arrested, he will immediately be granted bail before the outcome of any trial. After the initial application for anticipatory bail was rejected by the court, Sanal appealed to the Mumbai High Court. This appeal has now also been rejected.

In the last two days, police have arrived at his home in Delhi to serve a new arrest warrant and demand information on his whereabouts. Had he been home, he would be in jail right now, and a single day in jail is a day too long for Sanal.

Yesterday, this message was published on Sanal’s website:

This morning, officers of the Delhi Police reached Sanal Edamaruku’s house to arrest him. They came upon directions of a Delhi court to execute an arrest warrant issued by a Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrate Court (second highest Criminal Court). If Sanal had been at home, he would be in jail now

The officers were informed that Sanal is presently out of Delhi and traveling. They insisted on details of his whereabouts, addresses and contact numbers. Some hours later, they came again to press for information, to no avail.

With this dramatic turn of events, Sanal Edamaruku’s persecution has reached a dangerous new level.

New Scientist also has an excellent interview with Sanal.

(via New Humanist)

Way back in March of this year, the President of the Indian-based skeptic organization, Rationalist International, was invited by an Indian TV channel (TV-9) to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.

The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.

Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.

Sanal Edamaruku (via New Humanist)

People had flocked to the site in thousands to collect the miracle water… which turned out to be sewage… which means it’s likely many of those people became ill. That didn’t worry the church, though, eager to make a quick buck.

Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.

Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.

India’s Constitution only adds to the confusion. Clause (h) of Article 51-A states:

It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform.

In other words, Edamaruku was not only not breaking the law, he was fulfilling the Indian Constitution!

While it is not the official Catholic Church bringing forth these charges, it is standing back and refusing to condemn members of the Church who are responsible. A petition has been set up to put international pressure on the Catholic Church to step in and call for the charges to be dropped. You can sign that petition here.

You might remember Sanal Edamaruku — the “Indian James Randi,” if you will — from when he gave famed “tantric guru” Pandit Surender Sharma the chance to kill him using only his mind, something the guru claimed he could do:

I love how Edamaruku laughs during the entire exchange 🙂

For Edamaruku’s latest debunking, he went to the site of a “miracle cross” where water was seen trickling down Jesus’ feet…

Turns out there was a perfectly logical explanation:

Sanal Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leaders, present during his investigation, appeared to be displeased.

It sounds funny, but this is very serious. Edamaruku has been charged with blasphemy:

Yesterday (10th April,2012) Sanal received a phone call from a Police official of Juhu Police Station in Mumbai directing him to come to the said police station to face the charges and get arrested. He also said that FIRs have also been filed in Andheri and some other police stations u/s 295 of Indian Penal Code on the allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community. Mumbai police has announced that they were out to arrest him. It is apprehended that he can be arrested any moment.

I’m still waiting to hear if there’s anything we can do on his behalf. I’ll keep you all updated if I find anything out.

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