No more angry letters to Wilfrid Laurier University!!

Late last week the clubs commission of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students Union denied the application of the Laurier Freethought Association for official group recognition (a status which conveys a number of benefits that non-recognized clubs do not have access to). Over the weekend a number of bloggers have written posts expressing their discontent with the decision of the WLUSU. A few lessons have been learned from this experience. Firstly, we the secular blogging community are very active. Secondly, when we hear about an infraction of secularism, discrimination against the nonreligious, and a host of other sorts of events that we stand against, we can be very quick to action. Thirdly, we can make a difference. As you will see below, the secularist blogging community has had a significant impact on the situation at Wilfrid Laurier University, involving a number of university governance units as well as local media. This is all a testament to the value of the blogging community and I’m personally proud that such an impact was able to be had. However, the news is not all good. The blogging community had an impact—in fact, it had too much of an impact, it would seem. Over the weekend the clubs commission at WLU was bombarded by emails of people that were unpleased with their denial of the LFA. As you will read below, the leaders of the LFA (Anatoly Venovcev and Tyler Handley), while grateful for all the support that they have received, are urging everyone to discontinue the angry letter writing to WLUSU. Anatoly has issued the following statement on his blog:

When I first typed up my entry and asked the Friendly Atheist to share it, I did not imagine how big this would get. I thought that it might be localized to a small community of campus-freethought and Canadian related blogs. Not a chance. With the most well-read blogs in the secularist community blogging about this with hundreds of hits per day it’s hard to keep this small. In fact, it isn’t, as the latest e-mail to Tyler Handley, the president of the Laurier Freethought Alliance reveals:
Hello Tyler, this is … writing to you on behalf of the CC department. I have actually been taking over the duty of responding to the CC account, so you have in fact been corresponding through me, sorry about the confusion.

I understand your concerns about your club application. Please understand that none of us on the council believe that your club would be a club of “hell-raising, intolerant, church-burners”. Many of us on the council, myself included, sympathize with the vision of your club and feel that it is consistent with our own beliefs. I am telling you this to clarify that your club has not been rejected due to the council’s personal opinions or beliefs. Unfortunately, our personal opinions are not the deciding factor here.

The council has already expressed the reasons behind your proposal’s rejection, which amounts to little more than the wording of your club’s proposal. Personally I feel that for the most part, you have a perfectly legitimate club in the works. But as a department representing the entire Laurier community, we must ensure that every club remains tolerant and respectful of other clubs and organizations on campus. Believe me, I do not truly believe that you will be going around harassing religious organizations. If your club’s proposal and goals were to be revised to include only the promotion of your own beliefs, instead of the active promotion of living life “without religion”, then your club’s proposal would pose no problem as I see it. And I do understand that this is not what you were trying to achieve with this club. Really this is just a matter of poor wording, which I believe can be remedied. That is why I expressed in my earlier email that it would be fully possible to resubmit a revised application, which we still encourage you to do.

What was unneccessary on your part was to encourage your members to send a barrage of angry emails to the campus clubs department. The department will correspond through you, since you have submitted the application. These emails were not needed, and certainly would not help to foster sympathy towards your cause. Secondly it was also unneccessary to come into the Campus Clubs office and to lie to one of our executive liaisons about the former status of your club in an attempt to weasel your way into securing club status. This is not how the Campus Clubs department works, and fortunately we do have a knowledge of past events, so providing us with false information will not help, but moreso hinder the application process for yourself and your club. I encourage you to proceed with the application and re-application process in a professional way, and I will commit to continue to do the same.

(Just a brief note on “the weaseling” – it was a major misunderstand by both parties, as far as Tyler tells me, because we actually thought we were a club after 9 months of waiting. And apparently so did the girl who was in the Campus Clubs office who then added us to their database.)

So when you have some of the most vocal (and really smart and great) bloggers of the science and freethought blog-o-sphere talking about this, it’s impossible to do one thing we really didn’t want to: Start e-mailing them from all over the world. What’s more is that the Interim Harassment/Discrimination Co-ordinator of Wilfrid Laurier University got contacted in part of a discrimination issue (I got the carbon copy in my inbox) and tomorrow I have an interview with The Record – the local newspaper in the region. The campus newspaper will probably pick up on this and so will others… I believe this is the perfect time for a “Oh shit” moment.

The student-union run Campus Clubs will not be happy and to all of you who really don’t see a problem with that – we do, once this all blows over we will have to be dealing with them for our funding. Not the best position to be in.

As for the rewording the document and re-submitting our application – we will have to wait and see on that by meeting with the person that wrote that last e-mail. Honestly, to be frank, we do not believe that there is anything wrong with the statement on the promotion of “a fulfilling life without religion and superstition” because as freethinkers – that is what we do. That doesn’t mean we go around and harass people. That doesn’t mean we knock on their doors at 7 am on Saturday morning and ask if they have ever considered atheism. What we simply want to do is to have a place of our own where we don’t feel discriminated against… and now some members of the internet freethought community have started writing angry e-mails about that. What does that say about us? I like your enthusiasm but it’s getting out of hand and not helping the situation.

We’d rather not re-submit our application but rather see if the original paperwork could be revised. But even with all these things going on, I’d rather do the whole process all over again than to cause more angry e-mails to damped our already downing PR. I think most people over there in the boonies of the secularist movement don’t realize how life is like out here on the front lines of trying to carve out our corner in the cultural fabric of society.

Well, can’t say much else about the topic, just have to wait and see. Not sure how this is all going to end but I’m certain that it will have a lot of words “I’m sorry” in it. Like, I’m sorry PZ, Larry, and the rest of you; but we’re not pressing charges, we’re not throwing rocks into their windows, we’re not beating them with the logic-stick, we’re sitting down and talking it over cause we think that there’s no better way to do it.

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Comments
30 Responses to “No more angry letters to Wilfrid Laurier University!!”
  1. megan says:

    Please learn to spell one of our prime minister’s names correctly. It is Wilfrid Laurier University, not Wilfred.

  2. ronbrown says:

    Megan:

    Dang. I’ll go through and correct all the mispellings. Thanks.

  3. Emily says:

    wow, I was completely unaware that it’s Wilfrid, not Wilfred. All this time…:s thanks for pointing that out, I have to go spell check a few things now, haha…

    Anyway, I think quite a few things can be seen from the outcome of this Laurier fiasco. One, I find it amazing that all of those people, completely independent of any of us, wrote all of those emails. It wasn’t the best way to go about it, but the fact that it happened I think shows just how important these “small” injustices are to us all. And that’s the second thing, that there is absolutely, without a doubt, nill, nothing, zilch wrong with the phrase “fulfilling life without religion or superstition”, and in fact, along with coming together as a community, this is the absolute root of who and what we are. We fight for the “freedom from religion”, as the overused but extremely apt saying goes, and the idea that you CAN be happy without religion, that you CAN be an ethical, thoughtful, loving person without religion is the very core of our movement. Originally, I was for changing the wording of this phrase so that the words were different but it had exactly the same meaning, but now that I’ve had more time to think about it that phrase IS everything that we stand for. I agree with trying to compromise with the campus clubs council, but I do not agree that we should have to compromise on the very foundation of what we stand for.
    I wish a happy life without religion to everyone.
    🙂

  4. Dr.Dawg says:

    “If your club’s proposal and goals were to be revised to include only the promotion of your own beliefs, instead of the active promotion of living life “without religion”, then your club’s proposal would pose no problem as I see it.”

    Do that as soon as the Campus Crusade for Christ stops promoting life with religion. Fair’s fair. Otherwise you’re being asked to capitulate–to accept a kind of atheistic dhimmi status.

  5. Emily says:

    to follow up on what Dr.Dawg said, um….we’re secular humanists/atheists/agnostics…our belief IS the active promotion of life without religion.
    Seriously guys…

  6. Jenna Jones says:

    Campus Crusades for Christ is not a recognized campus club.

  7. 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”

  8. Dr.Dawg says:

    I suppose this is really Jenna Jones, President of the WLU Leadership Student Association.

    There is a Catholic Students Association, a Muslim Students Association, etc. Presumably the groups in question believe that religion is preferable to atheism–and that their religions are mutually exclusive. No one’s calling for them to be banned.

    Campus Crusade is certainly present on campus. Have they sought club status? Have they been refused?

    As for the rather bizarre attempt at character association in Jenna’s second comment (could she be the “Jenn” who is the present contact for Campus Crusade?) , that’s simply discredits the commenter.

  9. Dr.Dawg says:

    Sorry, that’s “Jenna Smith.” My question remains.

  10. Anatoly says:

    Jenna, first of all, that picture was 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.

    Thirdly, I’d like you to explain why the Campus for Christ has several times set up a table and gave out free books and, when asked, said that they were a club?

  11. Anatoly says:

    The comments, sorry, the picture is still there.

  12. Spelling Police says:

    In a demonstration of unmitigated suckage, you have acknowledged, but failed to correct your spelling disaster. Simple checking of facts eludes you. In short, you suck!

  13. christian huynh says:

    “Freedom from religion” seems to be a phrase that takes an active stance against religion. Who is not free from religion in Canada? Why is it not possibly to promote science, free-thought and reason without the exclusion of religion?

    Maybe this is inherently the case with free-thinking but then must it be so specifically laid out like that? Why only religion and superstition, how about holistic medicine or pseudoscience, the more I read the mission statement and the more I read comments on the issue it does seem like the free-thinking community are taking an active stance against religion.

    Atheists talk about acceptance and about non-exclusivity, something they claim religion does. And it might, but the difference between the intent of religious groups on campuses and the LFA statement is to promote only their beliefs and only their beliefs, but they don’t take an active stance against other beliefs. And by active stance I mean having intentions to exclude religious beliefs. They simply promote a “Christian life” or an “Islamic life” never do they include the word “without” as in “without need for reason and science.”

    Their missions are the inclusion of people into their way of life. If the LFA didn’t have this exclusion I can see no reason for rejection of status. Why does the promotion of science and reason and free-thought MUST of course mean also the exclusion of religion?

    I understand atheist and theists have opposing views and both views deserve proper representation, but at the same time respect and acceptance must be upheld.

    Does the free-thought community define themselves through the exclusion of religion? Does science and reason not apply to the examination of why religion does or does not work? Religion is a part of our existence, and will be for quite awhile. Would it not be more interesting to examine religion than to totally dismiss it?

    Maybe I’m I don’t quite understand the free-thought movement very well, and I invite anyone to enlighten me. I’ve only recently discovered this community and I’ve got loads of questions.

  14. Jenna Jones says:

    based on the limited info we have from last years council, yes they did apply for club status, and yes they were refused, as you put it.

    I’m not sure what organization you are referring to, there exists no such “WLU Leadership Student Association”.

    No, this comment is not being made on behalf of Campus Crusades for Christ. The commenter remains to be discredited.

    Please, get your facts straight.

  15. christian huynh says:

    CORRECTION: In the third paragraph I meant to say “something atheists claim religion does not do.”

  16. Randy says:

    I wonder where these “secular boonies” he refers to are?

  17. Anatoly says:

    Thank you Jenna, for the clarification. I will approach the Campus for Christ group next time I see them setting up a booth and ask for clarification.

    Now, I know this has been stressful for you and remarkably hectic for all of us. Now I hope that there won’t be any more snags in the road, last time I talked to Tyler, he is submitting the revised paperwork this morning and getting it processed in a formal matter.

  18. Concerned Laurier Student says:

    Hi Anatoly, as a Laurier student I have been following these events. I must say that I feel it is irrelevent that those comments were made “months ago”. After having a look at your facebook group, it seems that club status or not, you have been operating under the name “WLU Freethought Alliance” and using Laurier’s hawk in your logo for some time. Your association is already representing laurier to the outside world, and in light of that, I feel those comments were uncalled for.

  19. ronbrown says:

    Concerned Laurier Student: In what way were the comments uncalled for? It’s not like Toly and Ty said or implied that all Muslims are that way. And it is the case that there are many millions of Muslims that would wish violence upon those who depict the “prophet” Mohammed. And of this subset of the Muslim population, given their extremism it is probably not unreasonably to speculate that a good proportion of them believe that 72 virgins will be awarded to the martyr upon death.

    Not only were Toly and Ty’s comments not uncalled for, they signal a real problem: there are millions of people in the world who will respond to criticisms of their beliefs with homicidal violence. And you, my friend, are a part of the problem if you want to reward these bullies’ behaviour by standing in favour of the notion that their demands be met.

  20. Dr.Dawg says:

    based on the limited info we have from last years council, yes they did apply for club status, and yes they were refused, as you put it.

    They refer to themselves as a campus club. Let’s get the reasons for this alleged “refusal.”

    I’m not sure what organization you are referring to, there exists no such “WLU Leadership Student Association”.

    A thousand pardons. The word “Students” should have been pluralized. http://www.wlusu.com/brantford/home/SA/lsa_page.htm

    No, this comment is not being made on behalf of Campus Crusades for Christ. The commenter remains to be discredited.

    So are you the CCC’s “Jenn” or not?

    Please, get your facts straight.

    So far, one missing “s.” The rest was questions and scepticism.

  21. chrisitan huynh says:

    You know I came to this blog thinking that a proper discussion can be made. Instead it is riddled with emotional banter and spelling nit-pickers. How about you talk about the issue at hand? How about you not judge a person based on their associations but what they have to offer in discussion? How about before you say this person “remains to be discredited” you attempt at offering your views and thoughts? Does the Freethought community not advocate balanced arguments?

    If I say something that you don’t agree with, am I automatically discredited? Attempt to teach before you preach!

  22. ronbrown says:

    Christian: The “freedom from religion” is not about exclusion. It is about people being able to live without having to live under religious rule. Freedom from religion is about church-state separation. It is about having public policy and law be determined in a secular fashion, not by following what certain religious texts or religious say. Of course ideas from the texts and ideas from the leaders can enter politics, but they should be given any special priority based on their origin. That freedom from religion is not about exclusion is shown further by the fact that many religious people support it (i.e., church-state separation, or secularism).

  23. jenna jones says:

    Dr. Dawg, again, you are still referring to the wrong organization. The wrong campus entirely actually. I believe the association you have been trying to refer to is WLUSU, at the Waterloo, not the Brantford campus.

    No, I am not affiliated in any way with CCC.

    Lastly, regardless of whether they refer to themselves as a “club” or not, this does not change the fact that they are not affiliated with WLUSU, nor do they hold official club status on campus.

  24. jj says:

    To Dr. Dawg, again, you are still referring to the wrong organization. The wrong campus entirely actually. I believe the association you have been trying to refer to is WLUSU, at the Waterloo, not the Brantford campus.

    No, I am not affiliated in any way with CCC.

    Lastly, regardless of whether they refer to themselves as a “club” or not, this does not change the fact that they are not affiliated with WLUSU, nor do they hold official club status on campus.

  25. Tyler says:

    To Jenna,
    Your posting of those comments made by LFA members was underhanded, infantile, and might i add, quite stupid. Considering that fact that a journalist just got sentenced to death in Afghanistan for saying something along the lines of “Islam treats women poorly”, it’s not a far leap to think that i should be scared – as i stated “should i be scared?” Hmmm any other recent cases you can think of? Oh yes, the British teacher in “somalia?” who named a teddy bear Mohamed. And the fatwa’s and death sentences aren’t just relegated to the Middle East e.g. denmark cartoon controversy, salman rushdie, the death of theo van gogh, and the constant protection of Ayan Hirsi Ali. If it holds true that insulting islam can be a threat to your life, as i have shown here, then it follows that i was perfectly within my right to state that i should be scared. As for Anatoly’s comment, all you have to do is check the news to learn of another suicide bomber dying as a martyr. If this is true then it follows that Anatoly was simply speaking the truth. Yes it was sarcastic, but should not defame all Muslims; it was simply a comment on the attempted suppression of free speech by fundamentalist Muslims. If we can’t speak the truth then what are we left with? I can tell you that it isn’t something resembling the freedom of speech we cherish. Watch the South Park episodes Cartoon wars part 1 and 2 for great commentary on free speech.

  26. ronbrown says:

    Tyler: Agreement. And I love those episodes. So good in so many ways at so many levels. Brilliantly organized and self-reflective.

  27. christian huynh says:

    Like fighting fire with fire right?

  28. ronbrown says:

    Christian: What are you speaking with regard to?

    If it’s about the Islam discussion on the facebook group, it’s not about fighting fire with fire, it’s about refusing to reward the bullies with the silence that they demand.

  29. christian huynh says:

    If I were Muslim I agree that it is offensive to my religion. It can be interpreted as generalization someone is making about my people. It sounds like a perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudice. But I too have been known to indulge in off-coloured comments but when I am caught in my offense I can and will attest that it was not right of me to insinuate generalizations.

    These things have a time and place, and on a website that is supposed to advocate tolerance and cooperation it seems counterproductive.

  30. ronbrown says:

    Christian:

    If Muslims are going to take offense to one’s standing up to members of their religious community who are trying to suppress the individual’s free speech, that’s the problem of the Muslims. No one has the right to tell others what ideas they cannot criticize and what cartoons they cannot depict (excluding cases where there is good reason for it, such as that the cartoon is expressing lies hurtful to someone, for instance). And what stereotype or prejudice was advanced? They never said that all Muslims are dangerous. The point was that there really are Muslims who would be willing to bring harm.

    Next, this website is not about simply tolerating anything. This website is an advocate of what Sam Harris refers to as “conversational intolerance”, which is the unwillingness to let ideas be asserted without evidence. Conversational intolerance is not about bigotry, hate, or anything like that. It’s about the freedom and the value of asking questions, of not simply submitting to the social pressure to not press people to justify their religious convictions.

    I argue that the societal endorsement of unquestionable dogma—or at minimum, beliefs that we “respect” (read: refuse to criticize due to social coercion)—is among the most counterproductive programs a society can enact. It thwarts growth, mutual understanding, compromise, and justice, and it encourages societal fragmenting, conflict, and war. Any type of unquestioned dogma brings this risk. Religion, however, is one of the more potent forces as it encourages a sense of ultimate self-righteousness and moral correctness, subjugates human well-being to scripture, and uses the threat of eternal torture and social rejection to encourage conformity. Religion is not the only destructive force in society by any means, nor is it in a class of its own in terms of pervasiveness and magnitude, but it does bring with it great social costs.

    Sure it motivates good behaviour and community, but there is no reason to believe that these positive outcomes can only result from religion.

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