From: Ashu M. G. Solo
Sent: Thursday, April 19, 2012 5:50 PM
To: 'Web E-mail - Mayor's Office'
Subject: Christian Prayer at Volunteer Appreciation Banquet
Hi Mayor Atchison,
I attended the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet last night. You made a good speech. However, I have to say that I was extremely shocked, extremely offended, and extremely dismayed that there was a Christian prayer (which mentioned the Christian God Jesus) to start the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet.
The inclusion of a Christian prayer in a municipal government event clearly violates the separation of religion and government. Furthermore, it clearly gives primacy to one religion over all other religions. There should not be a Christian prayer at a municipal government sponsored event, particularly when it is paid for with Saskatoon taxpayer money. As a mayor, you should know better than that. Also, I hope the priest who spoke the prayer wasn’t paid for with Saskatoon taxpayer money. This is not a Christian country or 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. I’ve attended numerous banquets for numerous secular organizations and there was never a prayer at any of them and certainly not a Christian prayer at any of them. I would have thought the last place I would hear a prayer was at a municipal government event for volunteers including volunteers serving on the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee, which, as you know, promotes respect for all races, religions, ethnicities, cultures, etc. It is extremely inappropriate and extremely discriminatory to have a Christian prayer at a municipal government event. I know there were many people at this event who are not Christian. If you or other people want to pray before having dinner, people are free to do that on their own according to their own religious beliefs, but when there is a public Christian prayer at a municipal government event, that is extremely discriminatory. Religion is a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code and a fundamental freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I served as an infantry officer and platoon commander understudy in the Cdn. Army Reserve to honorably and lawfully defend freedom of religion and other freedoms. You’re free to promote Christianity on your own time, but you’re not free to use the office of mayor or a municipal government event to promote Christianity and impose your religious beliefs on others who don’t share them.
I was invited to attend the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet because of my volunteer work for the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee. I didn’t volunteer to be subject to Christian indoctrination. I joined the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee to fight against discrimination. I never would have thought that my service on the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee would instead make me a victim of discrimination at a municipal government Volunteer Appreciation Banquet for public representatives on the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee and other committees and boards. If I had known there would be a Christian prayer at the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet, I certainly wouldn’t have attended because I don’t want to be subject to Christian indoctrination at a municipal government sponsored event or anywhere else. I will certainly not attend this event ever again in the future if there is a Christian prayer at it. If I wanted to attend a prayer, I could go to a religious institution. If I wanted to attend a Christian prayer, I could go to a church. But I would never attend a prayer at any kind of religious institution because I’m an atheist.
Furthermore, I’ve heard that you have an annual event called the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. I find the idea of a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast to be extremely offensive. I haven’t attended this event because it obviously includes prayer, but the office of mayor should not be used to promote prayer or one particular religion. Obviously you’re free to do whatever you like with religion on your own time, but it clearly violates the separation of religion and government to have an event called “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast” instead of something like “Don Atchison’s Prayer Breakfast.” Also, it clearly gives primacy to one religion over all other religions if there is only Christian prayer at that event. I hope this Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast isn’t paid for or partially paid for with Saskatoon taxpayer money.
As you know, Saskatoon Public Schools were forced to stop having a Christian "Lord's prayer" in public schools when a complaint was made by religious minorities to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
This morning, I spoke to an intake officer named Marcy at the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission about the Christian prayer at the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet and about the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. She believes that a complaint about this would have merit. Such a complaint might have political ramifications for you. I have not filed a complaint yet with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission because I’m giving you the chance to remedy this situation first. I would like an apology for there being a Christian prayer at the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet I attended. Also, I would like a promise that there will not be any kind of prayer at future Volunteer Appreciation Banquets and that the separation of religion and government will not be violated again at any event. Otherwise I will be forced to make a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. I will absolutely file a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission if I’m not satisfied. I was going to send a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights last night right after the banquet, but then I thought I’d give you a chance to remedy this situation first.
I’m on the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee, but I’m not writing this email as part of my work on the committee because I’ve been told the committee doesn’t do human rights advocacy. I’m speaking independently in this email as a civil libertarian because I strongly believe that it’s always better to vigorously stand up for what’s right than passively sit down for what’s wrong.
Ashu M. G. Solo