In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, an appreciation dinner was held to thank volunteers in the town. One of the city councillors, Randy Donauer, offered some blessings before the dinner. He mentioned Jesus and ended the blessing with “Amen.”
What do you do if you’re in that room?
My guess is that most people in the audience, Christian or not, didn’t think much of it. They probably went home that night, told their friends and family members about the nice dinner and, oh, by the way, check out this nifty award they gave me. The blessing wouldn’t even register in the post-party summary. That doesn’t make it right; I just doubt it was a big deal to most people. I doubt I would’ve cared all that much.
Still, if I were in that room, I would probably have asked the event organizers, privately, if that was pre-planned or not. If the councillor did it on his own, he ought to be told by event planners not to do it in the future because it makes it seem like a Christian-only event, which it wasn’t. If the organizers had planned for a Christian blessing, I would (privately) take it up with them. I would want to know why they put a Christian blessing on the agenda as opposed to a non-denominational or secular one. I would want to know if this was accidental or the result of ignorance on their part. If it turned out to be part of some anti-church/state-separation scheme, then I’d make it a public issue.
Barring that, though, I just don’t think I could work up a ton of rage over something this insignificant. It’s not a city council meeting, in which case I would be more angry. Even though it’s a city function, without knowing any further details, my suspicion would be that someone — the councillor or the organizer(s) — just didn’t know any better.
That brings us to Ashu Solo, one of the awardees at the dinner. He heard the blessing, got royally pissed off, wrote a letter to the mayor, and then sent it along to the rest of the city council:
“It made me feel like a second-class citizen. It makes you feel excluded,” said Solo, who is an atheist.
“It’s ironic that I’ve now become a victim of religious bigotry and discrimination at this banquet that was supposed to be an appreciation banquet for the service of volunteers like me.”
“This is not a Christian country or a Christian city. It is a secular multicultural country and secular multicultural city with people from numerous religions as well as spiritual people, agnostics and atheists,” Solo said.
Municipal officials should not use their offices to “perform religious bigotry, as this is,” or “to impose their own religious beliefs on others,” Solo said.
You weren’t discriminated against. The blessing didn’t go, “Thank you, Jesus, for this food. Also, atheists, we’re no longer accepting volunteer applications from your kind. Amen.”
I’m with Solo on the idea that (arguably unintentional) exclusion occurred. I’m with him that Christian blessings were offered despite the fact that this was a government function and not everyone there was a Christian. That doesn’t necessarily call for a lawsuit or a complaint against the offenders. That calls for educating them on what they did wrong.
Hell, the mayor didn’t even realize this was an issue. And once he saw the letter, he suggested an alternative for the future:
[Mayor Don] Atchison said he was caught off-guard by the complaint because many of the events he attends include a prayer before meals.
“I’ve never given it any thought at all,” he said.
Atchison said he is sorry to hear Solo felt excluded.
He suggested in the future, the dinner could feature prayers from different religions on a rotating basis. There could even be a dinner with no prayer at all for atheists, he said.
Look! The mayor got educated! That’s good! And then he tried to respond accordingly! He ought to be commended for that, even if his suggestions aren’t ideal. (I would suggest getting rid of the pre-meal blessing altogether. Let people pray privately if they want to.)
What did Solo think of that?
Solo said the rotation idea will not work because there are thousands of religions.
He wants an apology from the mayor and a promise there won’t be any more prayers at City of Saskatoon events. He said if he does not receive those by next Friday, he will proceed with a human rights complaint naming the City of Saskatoon, Atchison and Donauer.
He’s threatening to file a human rights complaint?!
Over the top. Unnecessary. Makes him (and us) look crazy.
As for the mayor apologizing, I don’t know why he should have to unless he’s the one who called for the prayer…
If you can get an apology from Donauer, great. Even better would be a promise (from the mayor or event organizers) that this won’t happen again. That’s all that is needed. Not an accusation of bigotry and discrimination. Not a threat of a human rights violation.
Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
Not everyone understands the idea of Christian privilege. They don’t always realize that a Christian blessing may not sound welcoming for non-Christians. It’s our job to make them aware of it, calmly if possible, and aggressively so only if the action warrants it.
Solo’s reaction isn’t helping the situation here.
(Thanks to Ian for the link!)