Waterloo, Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University denies recognition to campus freethought group

After 9 months of doddling and deliberation, WLU has denied the Laurier Freethought Alliance’s (LFA) application for official campus group recognition.

The LFA’s mission is “to promote science, freedom of inquiry, skepticism, and a good life without the need for supersition or religious belief”.

The LFA was declined for the following reasons, as described by a school representative (bolding of important text by Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist):

While the Campus Clubs department understands the goals and visions of your organization, they are not compatible with the guidelines of what may be approved and incorporated into our department. While the promotion of reason, science and freedom of inquiry are perfectly legitimate goals, what is most in question in regards to your club’s vision is the promotion of “a fulfilling life without religion and superstition“. While this university is indeed technically a secular institution, secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices. To be clear, this is not meant to say that the promotion of science and reason are illegitimate goals. But due to the need to respect and tolerate the views of others, the Campus Clubs department is unable to approve a club of this nature at this time. If you wish to adjust and rethink your club’s application and vision, you may resubmit a revised proposal at any time.

This is absurd. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that we weren’t allowed promote fulfilling nonreligous life styles. I didn’t know that we weren’t allowed to group religion and supersition together (even though there is no evidence to the contrary). I didn’t know that such a categorization was not allowed. This is all interesting. heh. This is all very interesting. Because… For a second there. For a quick moment. I thought WE WERE IN CANADA!

WLU wants to talk about tolerance? How about tolerance for a group that wants to provide a community for people that cannot justify believing in tall tales for which the evidence is severely lacking? And how about applying the same scrutiny to religious groups. Have you read the Old Testament! When it comes to intolerance, the OT leads by example.

Vice President of the LFA, Anatoly Venovcev, and the President of the organization (Tyler Handley, I believe), have replied to the university asking for a meeting to discuss their application. They also pointed out how by in turning down LFA, it is the university that is being intolerant.

To show your support for Anatoly et al, leave a comment on Anatoly’s blog post on this unfortunate issue. And if you have a blog or website, help spread the word by posting on these events.

34 Responses to “Waterloo, Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University denies recognition to campus freethought group”
  1. Matt says:

    That’s craziness and clearly a decision which is just plain wrong.

  2. Tyler says:

    Tyler here – the president of the Laurier Freethought Alliance. I just wanted to add my two cents. “Secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices.” It does take a stance against the domination of an institution by religion. Our campus has 6 campus clubs of a religious nature. Yet when a club that comes along promoting a life-stance that values skepticism and scientific naturalism over the supernatural and dogmatic values that these religious clubs promote it is denied official status? For these religiously oriented campus clubs to operate they must have a secular institution, because freedom of religion requires freedom from religion. By this logic, we are fully in our right to be as she says “in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices.” I don’t see how this is tolerating the views of others. Not that Promoting skepticism and science is even a form of intolerance; it’s just an opposing life stance. Our club has specifically steered clear of labeling ourselves atheist. This is why we chose the word “freethought” over other words like atheist and antitheist. She failed to notice that we also stand for freedom of inquiry, which promotes open dialogue between clubs of all beliefs – something which we have been actively involved in. I hope this can go over without a hitch, but it’s already turned into one of those events that make me lose trust in humanity. I’d like to think it’s simply a case of ignorance that can be fixed by a simple raising of consciousness.

  3. ronbrown says:

    Ty: I’m going to forward my post around to other blogs. By Monday I imagine this story will have been presented by dozens of blogs, at the very least. I’ll also add an addendum to this post encouraging others to blog about this.

  4. BlackSun says:

    This is an example of what happens when your mind is so open your brain falls out. Political correctness is the apotheosis of liberalism.

    If promoting atheism is somehow intolerant, but political and religious clubs operate with full sponsorship, something is seriously wrong. I’m quite sure there’s are longstanding campus socialist and Marxist organizations (as there are at all colleges). How are socialism and Marxism not “intolerant” of capitalism? But that’s OK. A university environment is set up to allow just such a “dignified sparring” of viewpoints to take place. Why should the religion/secular debate be treated any differently?

    Dig deep enough into this situation, and you will find a religious believer in a position of power at Wilfred Laurier. It’s a certainty. And it’s also a certainty that they have now–as religionists always do–abused that power.

    Shame on them.

  5. postthought says:

    Hey Ron:

    I hate to be the party pooper but, in my opinion, and although the cause is noble, It’s just a matter of wording.
    I don’t know if this is all of it, but did they use the word Atheism? Maybe if they did then it would be different.

    What I mean is that, “to promote science, freedom of inquiry, skepticism, and a good life without the need for superstition or religious belief”…..does imply intolerance of “superstition or religious belief”, I mean If the statement read, for example: ” a good life without the need for Korans or Islamic belief” ….it just might send off the wrong signal….know what I mean?…I know I’m exaggerating, but only to make the point that I believe the committee is trying to make.

    Now with that said, if you were to put Atheism….

    Do they allow religious clubs?

    If they don’t and the request is denied, then your case is that Atheism is not a religion.

    If they do and the request is denied…then they’re the ones showing the intolerance….

    This is just my thought on the whole thing.

    BTW…thanks for inviting me to the conversation.

  6. postthought says:

    Sorry Tyler….

    I didn’t read your comment…..maybe you SHOULD call yourselves Atheists for the sake of equality when it comes to the religious clubs….hang in there…humanity is not so bad….it’s just childish sometimes.

  7. ronbrown says:

    The Quran and religious belief example, though, singles out Muslims against all other religions. That’s different than referring to religion generally. A lot of people think that you can’t have community, meaning, morals, etc., without religion. This is a response to that. The superstition reference refers to the general phenonomenon of people organizing their lives to varying degrees around unsubstantiated supernatural beliefs.

    Another commentor above noted how it is not uncommon for groups to criticize each other. Liberals and Conservatives to it to each other constantly, for instance. If a conservative group had in their mandate something along the lines of “to promote fulfilling lives without reliance on the liberal philosophy that pervades our culture”, or if a liberal group had something like “to stave off the encroachment of social conservatism into politics”, how many university administrations would be denying their official recognition because of their intolerance of the other group?

    At the end of the day, we live in what is supposed to be a free country with free speech. Free speech does not stop when people start getting offended. Freedom of speech, in fact, is the freedom to offend; no one tries to ban non-offensive speech. And really, the only offensive thing was the common categorization of religion and superstition—which have never been shown to be distinguished on the basis of evidence, so it’s not like LFA is being dishonest or anything.

  8. G says:

    Hi there it’s Guillaume from U of Montreal’s secular humanist association.

    Our recognition process went pretty easily. The application form we wrote started by praising the religious groups on the campus for their good work. Then we explained that, even though these guys are doing a good job in their niche, most students are not religious and would appreciate a secular group. A few days later we were in. In fact next monday we’ll have our kiosk right next to Campus Crusade for Christ. 🙂

  9. ronbrown says:

    Flattery will get you everywhere.

  10. Rachel says:

    Hi, postthought,

    I am not sure I follow you: why does “without the need for superstition or religious belief” imply intolerance? It’s simply stating something the group won’t consider. Like “this soup is cooked without salt.” Or am I missing something? The same, actually, goes for your example “without Koran” – again that might just be something that the group wants to do. That would not mean (necessarily) that the group has something against the Koran, there goal might just be that they would want to do something without it. Maybe even as a thought experiment – how long can I live without the Koran and not go crazy… Again, I might have a knot in my thinking here, so please straighten me out if that’s the case!



  11. postthought says:

    I did mention that I was exaggerating…and that I hadn’t read Tyler’s comment….I was making a point of how it sounds…not what it actually means…I believe they should have the right, but it sounds like a negative statement. It’s all about discourse…and how you use it to your advantage. If not then Catholicism clubs could be named “we hate Muslims and anyone else” which is actually what they mean.

  12. postthought says:

    When I said They should have the right I meant LFA.

  13. Eric says:

    Stop blogging and sue already…

  14. Prasenjit says:

    Hey Tyler,
    Waterloo student here (and also your fellow G+R=D member). I honestly find it sickening that Laurier would do something like that. Technically shouldn’t they be banning the campus crusade for christ too? What about the Muslims Students Association. I don’t get it what is their rationale. When a University shows such blatant ignorance, it gets on my nerves. The least you gotta do is get people to sign a petition..Come over to Waterloo too dude, you’ll get a good amount of people. Stick to the math/ DC and eng buildings though:P.
    Good Luck to ya, I really hope Laurier re-thinks this one.

  15. WLU used to be Waterloo Lutheran University no too long ago. Do you suppose there’s a connection?

  16. Tyler says:

    Dave, I don’t think there’s any connection there. I think this is just a case of ignorance.

  17. Andrew says:

    It’s unbelievable how lopsided issues like these always are – religious believers are allowed to promote their texts that very explicitly say that atheists and non-believers should be harassed, attacked, stoned to death, and tortured for ALL ETERNITY, but as soon as we say something as simple as “we don’t need you and we’re going to go do our own thing”, they freak out and call us “intolerant”, among other things.

    I’m disgusted that things like this happen in Canada of all places. Simply ridiculous and unacceptable.

  18. ronbrown says:

    Andrew: Agreed. You should ask Kate to put up a statement condemning this move on the UTSA site and facebook group. Tyler, ‘Toly, I and possibly others have been trying to get this event well publicized on the net. It’s been posted on a lot of blogs (this one, Toly’s, Sandwalk, Mike’s Weekly Skeptical Rant, Canadian Cynic, Skeptico, Too Many Tribbles, Friendly Atheist, and others) which is good.

  19. Jenna Jones says:

    Here are some points of interest that have been left out for obvious reasons.

    The 9 month period of deliberation occured due to the fact that Tyler submitted the application without leaving his or anyone elses’ contact information.

    Tyler was told that this was only a matter of wording, and was asked to re-word and re-submit the application. He has yet to complete this step.

    Clubs at Laurier are passed on an individual basis. Religious clubs do exist, however if their proposals had explicitly included “to promote (name of religion) and the possibility of leading a fulfilling life without science, reason, free though and inquiry” those clubs too would have been rejected.

  20. ronbrown says:

    I’ll let Ty address the first point.

    Why should they have to reword anything? Why should a secularist group not be able to promote secularism, freethought, free inquiry and the ability to live a good life without religion or superstition? What is so wrong with that? If some people want to live such a life, they’re welcomed to. But why can’t a student group be upfront about their purpose of promoting good living without religion and superstition? One of the most important imperatives for secularists today is to create secular alternatives to religious community. There are millions of nonreligious people in Canada. Many of them would love to have a community that is similar to religious communities but that is not faith-based. Why shouldn’t a freethought group be able to be upfront in its will to promote the development of such a community at Laurier?

    And this, by the way, is different from the flip-side (i.e., a religious group wanting to live without science, reason, freethought and inquiry) as such a stance would be to encourage dogmatism, oppression of human rights, and intellectual stagnation.

    If there is also an issue of grouping together religion and superstition, what is the problem with this. Is there an evidential basis for the distinction? Or are we just stifling free honest speech because some people and communities who value their beliefs more than they value honesty and rationality get mad when people rationally criticize their untouchable beliefs?

  21. James - Concerned Laurier Student says:


    First I must declare for the required that if your club was denied by Campus Clubs, then in fact it is WLUSU that you have the beef with, not WLU. Second, I am wondering what it is that you would do with Campus Club status. Are you seeking funding? Will you be running campaigns? What are your goals as an organization?

    Campus Clubs does not approve every other group, nor do they approve of every other group that is associated with a religion. You must understand that every group that becomes an official Campus Club under WLUSU, results in WLUSU being responsible for any illegal or harmful actions taken by that club. Therefore, WLUSU must take care in who they approve and look at every application as a possible liability.

    Do I believe that your club should be approved? Probably. The thing that you need to be aware of is that the Campus Club Co-ordinator is not out to defeat atheism or discriminate against atheists, the CC Co-ordinator simply wants to ensure that all Campus Clubs are enhancing student life, and not posing a threat to any other students.

    If you are still unsatisifed with this response then I recommend that you attend the WLUSU Elections Open Forum Tuesday February 5th (Today) at 1:00 and ask the potential candidates who will run WLUSU next year, how they feel about this issue.

    I further recommend that you re-evaluate you purposal, weaken your language, outline all events as inclusive, explain that funding will be used in a way that is not harmful, and resubmit it. I know it will probably be months until your club will be reviewed again, but patience is the price paid for advancement.

    From one Atheist to Another,

    James – Concerned Laurier Student

  22. Tyler says:

    Jenna, that is not the case. The first 5-6 months of deliberation was all their fault for the application had my contact info. They ended up losing that one somehow and so we had to resubmit this year and that was the one i left out my contact info on. The whole contact info thing should have no bearing thought, because we tried several dozen times to contact them with no reply. And to James, we understand exactly how it all works. This entire event got blown out of proportion. I’ve cleared the air with the student union and we’ve decided to meet tomorrow and go over our application so we can be approved.

  23. Emily says:

    First, to Jenna Jones:
    “Tyler was told that this was only a matter of wording, and was asked to re-word and re-submit the application. He has yet to complete this step.”
    Tyler, I for one absolutely encourage you not to change a single WORD of the phrase they had a problem with. We all know that that is compromising to an intolerance, whether or not the campus clubs council thinks they mean it like that or not. It makes no difference. There is nothing wrong with the phrase. If they, as James said, are concerned about the liability of a group which is absolutely a perfectly fine reasoning, and I applaud them for their diligence, they can look towards our dozens of other CFI affiliated campus groups across all of Canada. They will also see that there’s is the only student’s union to have this problem. The same solution can be applied to the general questions asked by James about what the group would be doing. The idea that this club would “pose a threat to any other students” is insulting, but that’s obvious. And again, I suppose it is…alright…because of the liability issue, they have to be extra careful. Fine. Good. But wait a moment. “I further recommend that you re-evaluate you proposal, weaken your language….” As Justin said, there is a difference between PR wording, and wording of a document to be accepted within a university club. I believe that where you should “compromise” is in the INCLUSION of items that you (as well as I) probably thought obvious, such as the inclusivity (probably not a word) of all events, the fact that we are not out to harm our fellow students (although this I find highly degrading…I’m sorry but I have to bring up the religious groups. Do they honestly say in any of their documents to be added to the list of WL campus groups that they are non-harmful, they won’t promote hate, and so on? I haven’t read them, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they do not, as they certianly wouldn’t have to because they are a religion, and religions don’t segregate, discriminate, or harm anyone. ). These things can be happily added to your proposal, as all of the campus groups as well as CFI itself, do this already. For legal measures, you have to be careful and include all the things that we would normally take as obvious. However. Compromising on an ethical standpoint which serves as the basis for very lives, and one which is not in anyway harmful to any other group or individual, is not something that you should even consider changing.
    I hope that I have helped in some small way to tell you how important this is to so many of us. I know you two will do the right thing. 🙂
    Have a happy life without religion,

  24. Jenna Jones says:

    Tyler, the CC council cannot be held accountable for the actions and lost application of last year’s council. If this information was lost, that is unfortunate, albeit not within the control of a council which, due to the structure of wlusu, changes members every year. If this is seen as a problem, please approach WLUSU. We would love to be granted the permission to restructure this, but have so far been denied. The application that was submitted in October was submitted without contact info, and this was the only application this year’s council was able to work with.

  25. Jenna Jones says:

    Quoting Anatoly and Tyler on LFA’s facebook group. After posting the Mohammed cartoon, the following comments were posted as well. (spelling mistakes left in for accuracy)

    Anatoly: “That’s the one of the ‘infamous’ Muhammad cartoons! Sweeeeet.”

    Tyler: “should i take it down? … i’m scared now”

    Anatoly: “Yes Tyler, I’d suicide bomb your ass if it wasnt for the shortage of virgins”

  26. ronbrown says:

    Jenna: aaaaand? What’s wrong with that conversation? They didn’t say that all Muslims are like that. Nevertheless, the truth is that there are literally many millions of Muslims that would want great harm (even death) to the person who would make or display a depiction of Mohammed, and within this subset of the Muslim population it probably isn’t unreasonable to conjecture that a sizeable proportion believe that such martyrdom is rewarded in the afterlife with 72 virgins.

  27. Jenna, is there ANY accountability in WLUSU since members change every year? Your posting of what was on the Facebook group is juvenile. What were you trying to prove?

    If anything, now the issue of free speech comes into play– the remarks of Anatoly on the group should have no bearing on any future decision regarding the club.

  28. Anatoly says:

    Jenna, like I said on the other entry:

    First of all, the comments were taken down as of Tyler’s meeting with WLUSU head of Financing earlier as part of the compromise that has been achieved. It’s slightly underhanded of you to bring that up now – especially since the comments in question where made many months ago.

    Secondly, that was part of a personal communication (on the LFA Facebook group which does rather make it out of place), and has no bearing upon the official mission goals of the LFA.

  29. Paul says:

    If this were a philisophical question, then obviously everyone should be treated equally. If your statement had of stopped at “and a good life.”, then I personally would not see anything wrong with it. For me the way you end it is a put down to those who feel differently.

    I can see that those expressing views here perceive this as a mere philisophical question. Ever since my first mystical experience when I was 5 years old and in the hospital, I have been unable to deny that which appears to offend. I was ‘touched’ in a way that helped me to understood that everything was going to be o.k., and that I was not going to die. I didn’t understand that it was God until I got older. I know it is not easy to see God today as we live in a world were we all have choice. We can do what we want, when we want; even if it hurts another. I think if we all could listen and act upon that which we feel in our hearts, then it would be easier for everyone to see God’s presence. So for me to be able to ‘accept’ the passive-aggressive put down at the end of your groups mission statement; it would be akin to being able to convince you that your parents were a figment of your imagination.

    There is something that has never made sense to me. I have had this happen to me numerous times. Someone will tell me that they don’t believe in God, and then proceed to tell me what God is not for them. Sometimes they will even insult you and tell you that you believe only in supperstiton or they will say it is a coincidence. Only in this area can somone have the cojones to admit that they have no information, experience or understanding about God, then they will try and convince other’s to not believe in God either? Where is the logic in that? To actively believe that God does not exist, does logic not dictate that one must therefore understand all possibilities? It is only through understanding all possibilities that I would ever feel logically capable of stating that which is not possible. Logic is limited by our understanding of the subject matter.

    Remember that we (humans) are the lowest common denominator in anything that we touch. It is not governements or religious organisations, etc. that are the cause of the evil within those organisations; it is us!

    I know that God loves everyone equally, and there are non that are more precious. Religious organisations also don’t appear to really understand this when they do things like shun member’s due to their behaviour, or encourage their members to hurt members of another religion. The God I know occupies all points of time and space, hence the omniscient part. It doesn’t cause all events by being present there.

    I also do not believe that only religious people do good in the world, but when someone who was religious loses their faith and their hope; it can lead some to do awful things. I know that those who have had experiences like I describe will not be swayed, but for most people it appears to be philosophical question.

    P.S. The schools name is spelt ‘Wilfrid Laurier University’ after the first French-Canadian Prime Minister of Canada.

  30. ronbrown says:

    I’m too busy to respond to Paul. If someone else wants to, go for it. Despite the clear personal side of his story, I nevertheless have to maintain my honesty and say that his statement is filled with one-sideness, misunderstandings, and widely distributed unreason.

  31. autumnrhythm says:

    hey paul. I think your belief is
    1. honest
    2. amazing
    3. inspiring
    4. yours and yours alone
    If you want to believe that your god is watching over you, and you will be alright, any idiot who offends you merely because of that belief is just that, a moron. In a purely philosophical way, NO one knows whether god exists or not, and debates on his existence (VERY often held between religious groups and CFI-affiliated campus groups) are crucial to our rational thought process. The idea that “logic is limited by our understanding of the subject matter” is precisely the maxim most of us follow (albiet many of us follow it blindly without actually doing it, just saying that they do), and we hold that if you truly looked at all of the scientific evidence, accepted what is scientific fact, and used your rational, NON-EMOTIONAL mind to logically decide which is more likely, that the universe is here based pretty much on random chance, as are you, me, and every other natural thing, or that we were all completely created by a supernatural being whom we have no empirical evidence for and who watches over us in exactly the way we want, exactly the way which fulfills us the most, well, this is the point, you would end up taking an atheistic, or at least agnostic, viewpoint. But the thing is…you can EASILY side with either of those viewpoints. Science WILL tell you that there is no argument, but human beings do not live their lives based on science. We are all irrational, highly emotional animals, and we have the ability to see things in both of these ways. That is one of the most amazing things about humanity. Both of these viewpoints are fulfilling, believe it or not, when you understand both of them correctly. It’s more like…me (a pretty hardcore Humanities student) trying to go through a maths program at university. I would find it hollow, and feel that myself and the rest of humanity play a fairly insignificant role in this life where everything is based on cold numbers and facts. I gravitate to the arts because, although it may be slightly more irrational, and really serve no direct purpose on this earth, I like it anyway, as it DOES fulfill me intellectually, as well as personally. So, yes, I am saying that god is like Literature 101, and atheism is like calculus (perhaps a bad example), the people who take them are just different…kinds of people. Is calculus wrong because it doesn’t fulfill me? No it isn’t. I can tell you that god doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t matter, as you are completely content with Lit class. Anyone who tries to take you away from god because you are irrational and they know god doesn’t exist, is doing nothing but firing a gun while blindfolded. Any religious individual who tries to make me religious is doing exactly the same.

  32. Paul says:

    Autumnrythym, thanks for your response. I sent a couple of responses to the section titled “Is it arrogant to…What about God”? I had what you said also in mind, so you may want to read it as well. I hit the submit comment before being fully finished, but I was probably still more verbose than I would have liked in my last comment in the other section.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] ronbrown Late last week the clubs commission of the Wilfred Laurier University Students Union denied the application of the Laurier Freethought Association for official group recognition (a status […]

  2. […] media attention February 8, 2008 — ronbrown Last Friday’s miscommunication-based denial of the LFA application for club status at Wilfrid Laurier University continues to receive more and […]

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