Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Radio Freethinker Episode 202 – Stompin’ Tom Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 12, 2013


This week:
– Stompin’ Tom Connors,

– Censoring the Vaccine Awareness Network,and
– Atheist Churches?

Download the episode here!


Stompin’ Tom Connors

imageStompin’ Tom Connors is a Canadian icon, a true patriot, and a musical ambassador for our great nation. His contributions to Canadian culture, patriotism, and international goodwill on behalf of Canada are of great significance to Canadians at home and abroad. We discuss the man and his legacy.

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 Censoring the Vaccine Awareness Network

hatespeech-WDon makes his case that the Anti-Vax-ers or at least the Vaccine Awareness Network should be banned from the public forum for community health reasons. Censorship should be rare and require a high-bar, but he thinks they reach it.

Find out more:

Further Reading – The good:

The Bad:

And the criminal:

Atheist Churches

Web-Banner-2What are there, why are they and what does it mean to the atheist/skeptic community?

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Skeptical Highlights:

Distinguished Neuroethics Lecture

Scott Kim, associate professor of psychitry and the co-director for the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan, will talk about the ethics of research with impaired adults who cannot consent.

When: March 13, 2013 @ 4:00

Where: Brain Research Centre @ UBC – Vancouver

Cost: Free

Provincial Elections

Get your civics on and get a job making democracy work. The provinical election is coming up and Elections BC is hiring Elections officers, clerks, supervisors and information helpers. Its at least one day, good pay and you can say you did your part keeping what shreds of democracy we have left alive.



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Jesus Is Just Okay with Me – Censorship Isn’t

Posted by Ethan Clow on May 4, 2012

You may have heard about a recent kerfuffle occurring in Nova Scotia about a young student wearing a Jesus themed t-shirt. If not, here’s an article on the CBC about it.

In a nut shell, this student, one William Swinimer showed up to class with a T-shirt that read “Life is wasted without Jesus.” He was suspended by the school after he was warned not to wear the shirt, supposedly on the grounds that it was either offensive or controversial. However recently that decision was overruled and Swinimer has been allowed to return with the T-shirt. The school board went through a series of debates with the kid as well as his local religious leader and eventually decided to allow the student to return.

In addition the school will be having a facilitator come in to discuss with students how to respectfully display their beliefs or something.

When we take a few moments to consider this issue, there are lots of ways we could get offended by this. To be frank, this Swinimer kid sounds like a righteous little fundamental who needs to check his privilege. He’s made several statements regarding how persecuted Christians are in his community and how they are constantly put down in school and such. His shirt’s statements could be interpreted through the lens of “if you aren’t one of us, you’re against us” or even more dramatically “if you aren’t Christian, you should just kill yourself.”  In today’s day of student’s actually killing themselves due to bullying this seems obscenely offensive.

So I guess I would be happy to jump on the “condemn” bandwagon, I’m reminded of something I’ve often said, “no one has the right to go through life unoffended.”

I can’t just ignore my own assertions when it becomes inconvenient for me to do so. I would be a huge hypocrite to do so. Many times I’ve chastised religious people for throwing a hissy fit because someone dared to publicly disagree with them. Now, someone is publicly expressing their disagreement with my opinion… is my answer going to be censorship?

I don’t think so.

CFI Canada also has weighed in on this issue:

“While CFI sponsored the Atheist Bus Campaign, we are a strong champion of freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” said National Communications Director Justin Trottier. “This shirt causes no harm and is a perfectly acceptable contribution to the marketplace of ideas.”


“We have consistently defended free speech rights for groups regardless of our agreement on message, including Muslim and Christian ads in public space and censored pro-life debates on campus,” said Trottier.

Rather than suspending the kid, what are some more constructive solutions the school could have considered? Perhaps a townhall type meeting to discuss the content and public declarations of religion in a school. Alternatively the school could host a talk by a pro-secular speaker on the issues of secularism and religious discrimination of anyone not in its camp. This option might be useful if those who are upset with Swinimer and want be in a venue where they don’t have defend themselves. That may sound like a strange thing to say but if we put ourselves into the shoes of someone who is against Swinimer wearing that shirt, perhaps because of the issue of religious homophobia, stepping in front of a crowd of people to explain why could be extremely daunting and intimidating, especially if you think more than half your audience is there to argue with you. Having a venue where the person can basically say their peace without being interrupted or challenged could be a more attractive option.

Back onto the subject of why secularists should be against censorship, consider if a student had worn a pro-atheist t-shirt. Had the school reacted by suspending the student, we’d be justifiably up in arms.

Nevertheless, the thorny issue of “where is the right venue for this discussion” has been brought up many times regarding this debate. People who are both supporters and detractors are asking “is a school the appropriate place for having this debate?” I would argue there is no more appropriate place than a school. After all, is a school not where we go to learn and be challenged and explore new ideas? Wouldn’t this qualify as one of those situations? We also have the question of “shouldn’t religion belong in your home, not a public place?” That can be another difficult question. Especially because Swininmer’s shirt could be seen as proselytizing. In my opinion, since he’s a student, not a figure in authority, this wouldn’t be considered an issue of proselytizing and keeping in mind, if a student showed up with a Atheism shirt the same argument could be made that it belongs at home, not in a public school.

Some of us may get a bad taste in our mouth while defending Swininmer, especially while he and his supporters prattle on about Christians being suppressed and bullied in today’s secular age… to me the specter of censorship is a far more offensive notion.

As Voltaire probably didn’t say:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. “

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Pseudo Censorship

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 9, 2012

A University of Louisiana professor is suing his university for violation of his first amendment rights by both criticizing his methods as well as preventing him from teaching

The first anti-vaxxers

Professor John Oller Jr., who worked in the Communicative Disorders Department, claims the Dean of Arts became hostile to his theories and systematically excluded him from teaching students. There have been reductions of his class size, a banning of his self-authored textbook, a lack of lecture opportunities and, according to Oller, a general ostracization by his fellow professors. Communicative Disorders Department deals with topics like Autism, Dyslexia and learning disabilities that affect communications. Oller specializes in sign language but more recently has focused on Autism. In 2010 he published a book – Autism: The Diagnosis, Treatment, & Etiology of the Undeniable Epidemic. The forward is written by Andrew Wakefield.

In the book, he promotes the false link between vaccination and the supposed ‘autism’ epidemic. Remember, his expertise is in linguistics not immunology or even biology.  There is more; he is also a believer in Intelligent Design and Creationism. He has spoken many times to the Louisiana legislature as an expert to promote the teaching of ID in Louisiana high school biology curriculum.

Oller, when presenting himself to the legislature, is seen as a doctor, as a member of the faculty of the University of Louisiana…using this position of respectability and authority, he gave testimony on a subject matter (biology/evolution) that he has no expertise. As a public representative of the university, this has a direct impact on the image and credibility of the university in general and the faculty of Communicative Disorders directly.

Oller is also a tenured professor…that is, unless he kills a student, he cannot be fired. Usually tenure protects professors from inappropriate persecution, however occasionally the discrimination is warranted, as in this case. Oller has used his academic and teaching platform to espouse his outlandish theories about both the causes of autism and the belief it’s an epidemic…theories in fields that are not his area of expertise. It is because of this that the department attempted to limit the damage he could do in his attempt to pollute students minds. If he had limited his teaching time…his lectures to discussing aspects of overcoming communication deficiencies of those affected by autism…maintained his comments to disorders that affect communication; the position of the dean would be weak.

The Dean and several faculty members (there does not seem to be any faculty that support Oller) mention that on several occasions they have had to deal with issues arising from Oller’s teaching and that they had been told by many his presence hurts the department’s credibility. Again, Oller is welcome to his own personal opinions that he may express and promote on his personal time; however if he uses his academic position to forward his cause…misusing his credential by implying knowledge in topics he does not have credentials…this transforms his personal activities to activities that have implications for the university…a transformation that gives the university a say (veto?) in how he presents himself in those occasions.

Evolution of the Creationist

He is, in part, being defended by the ADF – Alliance Defence Fund, a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family. Sorry for the ad hominem…

Okay, I think we have three issues here – is he competent to teach his subject, does his professional activities outside teaching (and outside the university) provide the university justification for workplace actions and lastly does his private activities provide the university justification for workplace actions?

Now, on the first case, Oller was hired to teach about methods of communications and issues arising from that. He was NOT hired to comment, speculate or imply in his capacity as an instructor on the root causes of Autism. Now, instructors are often give some leeway to provide ‘editorial’ comment in class (take any class in political science or economics and you will hear at least one tangential theory from your professor); that said it is unclear specifically how far Oller expounded on his ‘theories’ in class but considering his self-authored textbook, it does appear to be more than a passing comment…to the point where is appears to be a central tenet of his instruction. So, on this ground the university was with its rights to ‘silence’ him.

On the second grounds, his promotion of both anti-vaccination and creationism would involve the university if he gave such lectures through the university lecture circuit or in off-campus activities where he identified himself as both an expert on subject he did not actual have accreditation AND affiliated himself with the university.  In doing this, and again it has been claimed by the faculty that he did this not irregularly, he not only risks his own professional reputation but also that of the faculty and university he is associated with. Again, it seems the university has a right to censor his activities as best they can.

On the last point, where he promotes his ‘wacky’ ideas on his own time as ‘just a regular citizen’; although I find his views offensive and dangerous; I do not think the university has the right to interfere with these aspects of his life. IT may, as collateral damage, tarnish the image is a report Googles his name and discovers he is a faculty member but that is not the offence of Oller. However, it seem Oller was not content to limit is activities to ‘private citizen’ acts but used the weight (and thus the prestige) of both his position and his association with a credible institution to make his outlandish remarks.

It’s a shame he will be used in future as an argument against the tenure system. It has it faults but it does provide academics the freedom to be a counterbalance to the establishment; however when one wishes to be counter-establishment there is a greater weight upon them to ensure their views can be backed up with evidence and that they are not a throwback to a disproved and discredited point of view.

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