Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

The Case for Censoring the Anti-Vax Movement

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 15, 2013


Okay, now I have been in some lively discussions about my push to censor the Anti-Vax movement because of the health dangers they pose to the community. I have equated them to yelling Fire in a crowded theater, but perhaps that was not the best analogy.

First, when I say directly responsible, some may confuse direct with proximal…or immediate cause. I am not saying that a speaker at this conference are going out and killing babies with their hands…and that is why the fire analogy was a poor choice on my part.

But I still claim, at least for some, a direct causal link from their talk to the deaths of children.  I think a better analogy is hate-speech…perhaps comparing them to Holocaust deniers would be, if not equivalent in magnitude, similar in form.

So, hate-speech works on the principle if a person says something that is demonstrably false, which actually or likely will inspire others to act, that because of these actions a group of vulnerable people will suffer.

Do they fit this bill? Yes and no.

Can you guess which one was vaccinated?

Can you guess which one was vaccinated?

These speakers are talking to a group of people who will, by not getting their children vaccinated, directly result in the suffering and possible death of their children and put others at risk in the community. I think there is a direct link, but is what they are saying demonstrably false?

First, the idea they truly believe it is not a defence. I suspect many a racist has a firm and honest belief in the inferiority of other races.

Is what they are saying demonstrably false…to the point any reasonable person would know so? And I accept the onus is on me and it’s a high bar I must reach.

To answer this question, I checked out what they are going to talk about. The topics include: Vaccines cause Autism, Heavy Metal poisoning from vaccines, Vaccines are unphysiological, Disease (at least the measles) is good for building the immune system, and Aluminum builds up in the body causing brain damage.

Life before vaccination

Life before vaccination

So, willful ignorance causing suffering and death….The claim that vaccines cause autism has been researched extensively by groups both in the ‘big Pharma’ camp and out. Statistical analysis shows NO link, every mechanism claimed by the anti-Vax movement has been debunked. This is a lie, and they know it or should know it.

Heavy Metal poisoning from vaccines? Well, it’s true you can be poisoned by heavy metals in sufficient quantities. The heavy metal they are referencing is Aluminum.

First, it’s not aluminum proper but aluminum hydroxide…think of the difference between rust and steel.

AntiVaccineFraudThere is no evidence that it is toxic in the blood stream, there is very controversial evidence that when applied directly to brain cells there is a toxic effect, but one could say that if you applied salt directly to a brain cell it would have adverse effects.

Some dubious studies show a correlation between aluminum build up and Alzheimer’s but this is no longer seen as likely.

That said, the amount of aluminum required for this to be a factor is orders of magnitudes greater than that found in all the vaccinations a child is exposed to.

Again, willfully false.

They also try to discredit vaccinations with ‘research’ proportion “The whole basis for vaccinations is unphysiological. The vast majority of infections enter the body through the nasal passages & Gastro-Intestinal Tract.”

nandsTrying to make the case that it does not target the right area therefore cannot illicit an good immune response and that by injecting directly into the muscle you are poisoning the brain with aluminum and actually giving the disease to the child by circumventing that “80% of the body’s immune system is situated at these junctures”.

To be fair this is so much Gish-Galloping and plopping down of disconnected comments, claims and circular referencing it’s hard to condemn this as anything other than paranoid ranting.

Table 1 The impact of vaccines on disease burden in the US[1]


Max. no. cases


Cases in 2001

Reduction in disease (%)

































Haemophilus influenzae type-b





Still, willful or at least dangerously delusional.

Just to give an idea of how out there this group is, they are propagating the conspiracy that AIDS was created and distributed by the World Health Organization as part of some United Nations plot. Their comments quote research into the H1N1 vaccine….well let me quote:

Some of the crazy anti-vax propaganda

Some of the crazy anti-vax propaganda

Documents “implicating the CDC, WHO, numerous Vaccine manufacturers along with Government Agencies in collusion with The Rockefeller Trust, Rupert Murdoch & other Media, Real Estate & Medical Industry moguls – in a genocidal plot to use vaccines, in particular the H1N1 flu vaccine as a bio-weapon to deliberately sicken & depopulate the planet”

It is ironic that they are ignoring some real issues about vaccination that are important. The possible link discovered between the H1N1 vaccines and people with a genetic predisposition to narcolepsy. The idea that mandatory flu vaccinations can be only 60-70% effective.

The idea of doing clinical trials on which vaccines and methods work best; at present this cannot be done because it’s deemed unethical to deny a patient the ‘best treatment of the time’.

bfw_530This is equivalent to a hate group that is causing real harm and deaths. There is no sense of responsibility and they are willfully propagating falsehoods and lies.

They, at least this particular group, should be banned from public speech, vilified by society, most notably in this case at SFU. If this was Ernest Zundle, I doubt SFU would allow his rant nor hide behind free speech rights to defend it.

Free speech should only be denied in rare and extreme cases…I believe this is one of those cases.

Further Reading – The Good:

The Bad:

And the Criminal:

[1] ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LIFE SCIENCES & 2007, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

How vaccines work

From Jenner to Wakefield: The long shadow of the anti-vaccination movement


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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.

Find out more:

 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?

Find out more:


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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Radio Freethinker Episode 175 – Nuclear Salmon Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 24, 2012

This week:

– Airport security’s porno twist,

– Nuclear Salmon invade the West Coast,

– Drone’s stop Polio eradication

– New improved Olympics now with Rocket Launchers, and

– What’s Ethan’s problem with the War of 1812

Download the episode here!


Airport security’s porno twist,

We discuss some interesting stories in the news about the “enhanced” security pat-downs that ‘exposed’ the worlds largest penis and had the US courts pronounce nudity ‘free speech’

Find out more:

Nuclear Salmon invade the West Coast

The recent front page of the Georgia Straight warns Canadians about the imminent and probably deadly threat to our lives from the nuclear fallow from the Fukushima reactor accident arriving in the form of radioactive fish. Don takes a critical eye to this story and exposed its bias and unscientific slant.  

Find out more:

Drone’s stop Polio eradication

The world has almost eradicated Polio in the world however repercussions from the assassination of Bin Laden and the US use of drone assassinations has stopped to program in Northern Pakistan. Listen and find out why.

Find out more:

New improved Olympics now with Rocket Launchers

With the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner, we examine the escalation of security including the placement of several rocket launchers on the roofs of apartment building in down-town London. We take a skeptical look at the effectiveness of these weapons and the possible motivation for their use.

Find out more:

What’s Ethan’s problem with the War of 1812

Ethan examines some of the historical and cultural inaccuracies and false impressions the current War of 1812 celebrations are portraying and why its important to get the history right.

Skeptical Highlights:

International Autonomous Robot Racing Competition 2012

The International Autonomous Robot Racing Challenge (IARRC) is a competition in which small-scale vehicles (about the size of an RC car) use artificial intelligence to race against each other without human control.

IARRC aim to provide students with a hands-on opportunity to apply what they are learning in school. Ultimately, this competition promotes research in autonomous automotive technology as we believe such technology will improve the safety and quality of transportation.

The first competition was held in April 2005 at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It has been growing since then, and other participating universities have taken turns hosting. This year, IARRC 2012 will be held in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Robot Racing Competition and Exhibition

Google Labs

Google has set up an exhibitionist in the Science Museum in London. In true Google style it was not intent to have a ‘traditional’ display so they have combined the exhibition with Google Chrome to launch Google Web Lab. Where virtual visitors from around the world will be able to interact with the displays and perform 5 different experiments from the comfort of home. The exhibit includes: Universal Orchestra, Data Tracer, Sketchbots, Teleporter, and Lab Tag Explorer.

Google’s Web Lab website

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Join the BCHA for its third year marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade. For the past three years the BC Humanists have invited all local humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and other freethinkers to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade. This year we hope to have a bigger and more fabulous entry than ever!

DETAILS — Marchers should plan to arrive by 12:30 PM. Our staging area is designated EN4 and will be on the North side of Robson Street between Burrard and Thurlow. You can only enter the staging area from Burrard Street. Please plan on walking/biking/transiting downtown as there is very limited parking and many road closures..

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Paul Ingrahm Save Yourself lecture for BC Humanists

At The BC Humanist’s Sunday, August 26th meeting, They will be hosting Vancouver science journalist Paul Ingraham for a special lecture.

In 2010, Paul Ingraham quit his career as a Registered Massage Therapist, exasperated by the prevalence of anti-scientific attitudes and methods in that profession, and disheartened by a fight with a licensing agency for the right to write about it — similar in spirit to Simon Singh’s famous legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association. Mr. Ingraham will tell the story of his legal struggle and becoming one of the few apostates of complementary and alternative medicine.

Mr. Ingraham is now a science journalist and publishing entrepreneur, and creator of, a popular website about common injury and pain problems, which is notably successful at commercializing science advocacy and rational health care information. He has written hundreds and articles and eight books on these themes so far, and is also an editor for, a blog about scientific issues in medicine.

All are welcome to attend our weekly Sunday meetings at Oakridge Seniors Centre, which start at 10am. After about half an hour of coffee, tea, and socializing, we discuss topics of interest to our members.

Save Yourself lecture

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Divided Loyalty

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 30, 2012

If a government employee falls in the forest, does he make a sound? Well, with a new directive, they had better not.

We have often talked on the show about the ‘apparent’ trend of the Harper government to silence scientist. Now, some could argue that it’s not ‘silencing’ but attempting to ensure a ‘consistent’ message. I think we pretty much exposed in a previous show that was NOT how science should be done or reported. This is also not a gag that applied to employees only at work but extends to their private life as well.

Part of the Parks agency’s code of ethics states that “All Parks Canada employees shall…arrange their private affairs so that their impartiality is conserved and enhanced.” Thus, making possible as Eddie Kennedy, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said “If you’re in a coffee shop and you’re criticizing the Harper government and there’s someone sitting beside you and they know you work for a government department, technically you’re in violation of the code of ethics,”

Recent action by our government has provided evidence that there really is a deliberate attempt to muzzle government employees even on their own time. The action in question was a ‘reminder’ to Parks Canada employees about their “Duty of Loyalty”.

In a letter sent to park employees by their supervisors, they were warned not to speak against the government. The letter states that ‘Workers are not supposed to speak about the cuts, whether at meetings, forums or through social media. Only designated people are allowed to deal with journalists.’

The letter informed that “as employees of the public sector, our duty is to support the elected government” that seems to mean the Harper government not Canada itself.

Now, one might argue that this is only Parks Canada, seems harmless but such loyalty documents and amendments are being made in several agencies and departments. When this ‘silencing’ extends to health, environment or science as we skeptics are concerned about… harm will happen. For rational and reasoned debate to exist there must be the free flowing of information. If someone in a government department says that, for example, cuts to Parks Canada will result in higher fees and fewer parks; this is not disloyalty…well not disloyalty to Canada although Harper may disagree. This is the information required by the public to make reasoned decisions. If all we get from our government employees is “Whatever Harper said is true…and if it’s not I could not tell you because that would be disloyal and may get me fired”, reasoned decisions are not possible.

Ironically, there is a contradiction in the Parks Canada Code of Ethics, after warning employees not to be honest to the public but to only tout the party line; it states that “All Parks Canada employees must be open and honest in their dealings with the public, stakeholders and other organizations.”

Yet, another piece of evidence that things are not “all right” on parliament hill.


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An Atheist Behind Bars

Posted by Ethan Clow on June 29, 2012

One thing freethinkers should be thankful for is that they don’t live in Indonesia. That’s because you can go to jail for being an atheist there.  And that’s what happened for Alexander Aan, a 30-year- old civil servant and a self-confessed atheist, who has been sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for being an atheist.

The really sad thing? He’s better off in jail where he’s safe from beatings and attacks.  Aan was convicted of hate crimes for posting on Facebook that he was an atheist and saying such horrible things like “god does not exist.” He also posted controversial pictures of Muhammad, which as we all know is totally unforgivable. In addition to his hateful unbelief, he will also have to pay $10000 in damages to society.

Once word of this spread, radical Islamist groups tracked him down and attacked him, they dragged him around and beat him, his attackers did not face legal consequences for this.
Ironically, Aan was convicted on charges of blasphemy. Instead the court ruled that he was inciting hatred. (ironically hatred he was the victim of but never mind…)

There’s an article called Is there room for atheists in Indonesia? and it seems to come to the grim conclusion that no, there isn’t. It’s a haunting thought to wonder if atheists have the right to exist in Indonesia, and more importantly, if they are considered as being outside the constitution, can they expect state protections just as all other citizens?

In the Preamble to the Constitution of Indonesia, it is stated as an important principle to “Believe in the One Supreme God”.  Later in article 28 of the Constitution is a guarantee of freedom of religions, of course this does not mean there is freedom not to believe in any religion or even in the existence of God.

By government regulation, there are only six religions — Islam, Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism — that are recognized by the state. So there is freedom of religion, freedom to choose one of those six. And by “freedom to choose one of those six” we actually mean you’re free to chose Islam or radical groups will attack you and beat you in the streets.

Even local human rights organizations, which had been vocal in defending the freedom of religious minorities, have largely remained silent throughout Aan’s case.

Indonesia’s record on freedom of religion has come under international scrutiny in the past year following a series of attacks by radical Islamic groups against religious minorities. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, Indonesia had to answer questions from other governments about the treatment of some religious minorities and the lack of protection from the state.

All this taken together paints a rather dim picture of just how “free” religion is in Indonesia.

We in the secular west often take our secular societies for granted. There are lots of cases where being a public skeptic and atheist has resulted in egregious violations of human rights.

A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years of hard labour in prison after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Twitter.

The judge found him guilty of insulting the Prophet, the Prophet’s wife and companions, mocking Islam, provoking sectarian tensions, and misusing his mobile phone to spread the comments.

Fortunately for him a new amendment to the criminal code in Kuwait did not take effect. Earlier this year the Kuwaiti parliament overwhelmingly voted for the death penalty for blasphemy. The emir rejected the amendment but can be overruled by a two thirds majority, so check back on that one.

In Pakistan last year, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was killed by gunmen in Islamabad as he was travelling to work, a few weeks after he had vowed to defy death threats over his efforts to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

In India, In 2007, the police in Pune arrested four Bangalore-based software-engineers for posting on the Internet an quote obscene profile of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a sixteenth-century Maratha warrior king, clad in female underwear.

In 2007, the authorities charged ninety-one-year-old Maqbool Fida Husain with hurting religious sentiments by painting Mother India as a naked woman

And of course, Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association was charged with blasphemy for proving that a weeping statue wasn’t a miracle but a hoax on national TV.

If you are interested in helping out Alexander Aan, here are some ways to support him. Atheist Alliance International has launched an appeal for donations to help pay for Aan’s legal costs and to support the Aan family’s living expenses while he is in jail, at Fund for Alex Aan).

CFI Transnational wants to make the voices of those who support Alexander loud and clear to the Indonesian government. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is organizing a letter-writing campaign on Alexander’s behalf, and CFI urges you to take part. They have created a custom letter which you can sign or add to and add your voice to those fighting for Aan’s freedom.

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Right to mislead

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 7, 2012

Rogers uses charter claim to fight truth-in-advertising law. Rogers Communications Inc. is asking an Ontario court to strike down part of a federal law requiring a company to have “adequate and proper” tests of a product’s performance before advertising claims about the product — on the grounds that it violates its freedom of expression.

In addition to taking on the performance claim provision of the Competition Act, the telecom giant is arguing before the Ontario Superior Court the hefty financial penalties that can be imposed on a company for making a false or misleading claim are also unconstitutional.

The legal battle with Rogers began in November 2010, when the bureau went to court to levy a $10-million penalty for a “misleading advertising” campaign involving the company’s Chatr! discount cellphone service. The bureau is also asking the court to order Rogers to pay restitution to affected customers and refrain from engaging in similar campaigns for the next decade.

In their advertising Rogers’ Chatr! claimed to have fewer dropped calls than any other competitor and that its customers had “no worries about dropped calls”. A study of the drop rates between Rogers’ Chatr! and the competition showed no difference in drop rates.

The ruling in question and the Competitions law states that before a company can make an advertised claim it must have a test in hand. Rogers is claiming this violates its charter right to free speech because, you may want to sit down for this one…IF what it had said was true but when they said it they did not have proof but later they could provide proof then the test would be a violation because it would prevent them from saying a true thing because they did not know it was true at the time“.

Make sense? No, not to me neither. First the case at hand showed they issued a false and misleading statement. Second, they are saying if there is no proof to the contrary they can claim anything and to prevent them from doing so is a violation of their charter rights (not that I think corporations have charter rights in the first place, but that’s another show!).

This became a more important issue for Rogers because in 2010, the penalty for this infraction went from a paltry $250,000 to $10 million for first offence, and $15 million for each thereafter.

Now, you may ask why is Rogers pursuing this aspect of the case, when it’s Chatr! claim was false? They want a precedent. Even if they lose this case on fact, the precedent will be established so that in the future they do not have to have proof of a claim when they make said claim.

If they get their precedent, in the future they will be able to make claims in their advertisements without actually knowing if those claims are true or not.

I think there is an important aspect here for the skeptical community above and beyond one’s views on corporations. We have often railed against the false or unsubstantiated claims of neuropathy – “this herb will boost your immune system”, chiropractic – “our treatments will reduce asthma”, classic WooWoo medicine – “our treatment will cure cancer” and other pseudo-scientific flim-flam – “our bracelet re-aligns and negates radiation from your phone”. If Rogers succeeds in its challenge, there is a likely unintended ramification that this precedent will be used to promote quack science.

Keep your eyes open on this and let Rogers know you don’t agree with its selfish attempts to reinterpret charter rights in such a way that could harm or even kill people by those who would benefit from their court case.

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Show Notes – Ep #156 – Rational Compassion Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 6, 2012

Radio Freethinker Episode 156 – The Rational Compassion Edition;

This week…Skeptic News, Rogers and the right to deceive, Part 2 of our interview with Nigerian Skeptic Leo Igwe and Neanderthals, where did they go and how did they get there

Download the episode here!

Skeptical News:

Creating Ethical meat from zombie chickens…matrix style!

A design project is attempting to get funding to create brain-dead chicken factories. Its hoped this will avoid ethical issues by developing chickens that have only minimal brain function. The high-density system would create a matrix like farm where meat could be produced more affordably than green-house tomatoes and far more environmentally friendly than even free-range chickens.

Church may not prevent depression.

Seems those predisposed to depression stop going to church long before depression hits. Therefore, there may be less depression in church goers not because religion provides some sort of preventative but because fewer people prone to depression go to church in the first place…it’s called selection bias.

Media giant claims Charter Right to mislead in advertising

Rogers is making a Charter claim that its right to free speech is being denied because the Competitions Act states an advertised claim must be supported by evidence. Essentially, Rogers is laying claim to charter protection so it can make any claim it would like provided no-one has DISPROVED it.

Find out more:


Leo Igwe interview Part 2 – Rational compassion

Don continues his discussion with Leo Igwe, Nigerian Skeptic and former representative for South and Western Africa on the International Humanist and Ethical Union. We talk about how he became a skeptic, how humanism is a driving force in his life and he explains the importance of what he calls ‘rational compassion’.

Learn more about Leo Igwe:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Neanderthal – When did they really die out and where they sailors?

Ethan leads us on a discussion about some new research that shows the Neanderthal may have been on the verge of extinction long before homo sapiens showed up. Furthermore that the few survivors of a new-extinction event may have helped facilitate the interbreeding between our species and gave humans a helping hand at spreading around the globe.

We also discuss new discoveries that point to the idea that Neanderthals may have been boat builders and were sailing around the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years before humans were.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights: is a grassroots organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open and affordable Internet. We work towards informed & participatory digital policy


March 8, 2012, 12 pm
As part of SFU Philosphers’ Café, moderator Michael Picard questions whether ethics can be taught and whether they can be established objectively.
SFU Harbour Centre ( 515 W. Hastings) – Free admission

Do you believe in atheists? Distrust and anti-atheist prejudice

The UBC Freethinkers Club is proud to sponsor a lecture by prominent Ph.D. candidate, Will Gervais. His most recent work into distrust of atheists has been covered in many major newspapers and has received much prominent attention! We’ve snagged him for an afternoon to let us know: why *do* people mistrust atheists?

When: Thursday, March 22, 2012 – 7:00pm
Cost: Free for UBC Freethinkers Club members/ $2 for non-members
Location: BUCH A101 ( at UBC Vancouver Campus.

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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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Blasphemy Day 2011 and Why We Need It.

Posted by Ethan Clow on September 30, 2011

Today, Friday the 30th is International Blasphemy Day (sometimes referred to as Blasphemy Rights Day) Either way, Blasphemy day, as I like to call it, was founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry Transnational.

The purpose of the day is to celebrate free speech, free expression and to draw attention to blasphemy laws that exist all over the world. These laws, which make it a criminal offence to blaspheme, are considered by secular and civil liberty groups to be egregious violations of the notions of free speech and free expression.

Today groups all over the world are staging events and activities celebrating Blasphemy day. Check out the link to the Facebook group to see if there are any local events near you.

So what is blasphemy anyway? Blasphemy includes mocking, irreverence, or sacrilege towards religion or religious objects. Anything from saying “religion is wrong” to “the Pope is a criminal” or “that communion cracker is just a cracker.” Essentially, speaking out as an atheist would be considered blasphemy. There’s also a nice definition over at the blog Skeptic Freethought.

It’s not much of a surprise why secularists oppose blasphemy laws.

And yet some secularist oppose Blasphemy day.

The argument against blasphemy day rests on a number of points, such as:

1. This serves no purpose except to offend religious people

2. This violates the notion of hate speech laws.

3. It encourages anti-religious* persecution (*insert Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim depending on the situation)

I think these are all valid objections. In fact, I would even agree that these are potential problems with Blasphemy day. Don’t take my word for it though, some people a lot smarter than me have already voiced such concerns. Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry has written about the subject here.

A couple years ago, back when I worked for the Centre for Inquiry, I attended the annual meeting at CFI headquaters in Amherst, NY and along with all the other branch leaders from all across North America debated the merits of Blasphemy day. I can say there was no real consensus. People were divided over the notion of it and it really reached an impasse. We couldn’t even agree what to call the event, (the whole Blasphemy Day or Blasphemy Rights Day)

Despite the potential problems that can arise from celebrating Blasphemy Day, or the real objections raised about the holiday, I still approve of it and encourage you to as well.

I’d like to address of a few of the objections to Blasphemy day as I’ve already had a few conversations with fellow free thinkers about it and I’m hearing a lot of the same rhetoric that I don’t think holds up to skeptical scrutiny.

To address point number 1: This serves no purpose except to offend religious people

No one has the right to go through life not being offended. This is not a harsh statement. Imagine for a moment what life would be like if you did have that right. Every time you were offended there was some offence police who came and investigated. The first thing to go would be satire. Mark Twain, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, Jonathan Swift…all gone. Someone, somewhere, was offended by them.

Consider what going to university would be like. I’m not even sure how to imagine university without the possibly of being offended. And that’s not because all my professors were jerks who just insulted us each day but because they challenged us. That’s the job of university professors! Hell, it’s the job of any teacher. We challenge not only our academic abilities and our physical limitations but also our values and beliefs. Without pressure to examine our core beliefs, there wouldn’t be pressure to change and grow.

Offending religious people…offending anyone…is the collateral damage that goes with exploring new avenues of thinking.

So, I reject the notion that offending people is inherently bad.

I also reject the notion that blasphemy isn’t a serious issue. Anyone with the ability to read the news should recognize the need for people to be able to freely criticize religion. To anyone who disagrees with that, I would ask how they can support free expression in criticizing government, corporations, sports teams, special interest groups, NGO’s and not support criticizing religions groups?

I also reject the notion that the purpose of Blasphemy day is to solely offend religious people. I especially reject the idea that it’s some childish game of lobbing insults (as some pundits have characterized it) Look, if we agree that offending people isn’t de-facto bad, and that blasphemy laws are de-facto bad, how can a day celebrating the right to be blasphemous be wrong?

Point number 2: This violates the notion of hate speech laws.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this complicated issue. Free speech vs. hate speech laws. I honestly think it’s a very nuanced debate. I generally fall on the side of free speech trumps hate speech. But I think this can be generally irreverent to blasphemy day anyway.

Saying “Jesus is not the son of God” is blasphemy. It might offend Christians, but it’s not hate speech. If I were to say “Christians are evil and we should kill all the Christians” that would qualify as hate speech. When you’re attacking an idea, that’s an expression of free speech, when you’re attaching a person or a group of people with an incitement of violence or attempts to dehumanize them, that’s hate speech.

Again, I don’t pretend to be an eloquent speaker on this, however Crommunist, a friend of the show, is an eloquent speaker on this and I think his opinions are at least worth of consideration. Check out his post about this issue.

Point number 3: It encourages anti-religious* persecution (*insert Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim depending on the situation)

At a previous Blasphemy day (or possibly Draw Mohammed Day), a group here in Vancouver encountered problems when people started using the event to write racists remarks and high-jacked the situation to promote intolerance towards various religious groups. Obviously, this is a disaster and no rationalist group wants to engage in this.

This is one of the big concerns groups have with Blasphemy day, the potential for some racist jerks to make the whole group look bad. The problem as I see it, is this potential PR nightmare exists for any event a free-thought group might have. There’s nothing stopping a jerk from showing up at a regular old skeptic event and voicing anti-Semitism for example. In fact, this happens. My friend Daniel has told me how conspiracy theorists will show up at club day’s events and voice their concerns of how the Jews are controlling the banks and on and on. Occasionally, people come to our events and rant about Islam in a very Islamophobic way. It happens and we as a group (any group actually) need to make a very important distinction:

We respect people, not ideas.

In my opinion Blasphemy day is no different from any other event a group might hold. And the fear that it might get derailed by jerks needs to be countered by a clear message that blasphemy (like skepticism) is directed at the ideas and concepts and not the people and individuals who worship such ideas.

Some people might suggest that the demarcation line between attacking people and attacking ideas is indistinguishable. Indeed, many people are offended by the mere fact that we atheists even exist, let alone actively criticize their religion.

However our existence isn’t something we’re willing to compromise on. And we shouldn’t compromise on special privilege for religion in law and society either. If we allow valid criticisms of religion to go unheard because they can hide behind the shield of blasphemy law, then the freedoms and secular institutions we hold are in danger.

The Freethinker of UBC have a booth for Blasphemy day, please come by and show your support. In addition, see this video produced by the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI) to show why Blasphemy day is needed.

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Why should I care about the Supreme Court?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 18, 2011

Supreme Court of Canada

Where does it fit in?

Although established at the inception of our nation, the original the Supreme Court of Canada was not supreme; in fact until the British Privy Council was abolished in 1949 it was last court of appeal. There was a sort of limbo for our legal system until the repatriation of our constitution in 1982 at which point the court truly was supreme. Since 1982 not only does the Supreme Court rule on the letter of the law; they also interpret the meaning of and implementation of the Constitution and Charter of Rights as well as a unique role of answering ‘reference questions’. Reference questions occur when the Governor General (on the behalf of the PM) asks the court if a proposed law would be constitutional or not; a prejudgment of law as it were.

Why are they important?

Although parliament may make law, how that law is actually enforced in our country or IF it is allowed to remain a law at all lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. One great example was the legality of Abortion; for decades the Supreme Court upheld limitations on abortion however in 1988 the court struck down our laws and to this date we have no law on abortion…we are one of the few countries that treat abortion as a purely medical matter between doctor and patient. Similar landmarks occurred with regard to the recognition of Aboriginal rights or the definition of hate speech and the limitation of free speech.

Who are they?

Currently there are 9 members of the SC of C. By law, 3 must be appointed from Quebec, by tradition 3 from Ontario, 2 from “the West” and 1 from the Maritimes. For a case to be heard by the court, it must first be approved of by a committee of at least 3 justices. This means that before any case even reaches the Supreme Court it must first be approved by a this committee; this is the first opportunity for the ideology of the justices can influence the way our constitution and laws are implemented.

Once a case is approved, it is then heard by any from 5 to 9 judges unlike the American Court there cases are heard by the complete 9 court members. At the moment, of the 9 justices 6 have been appointed by the Liberals and 3 by the Conservatives however in the next 4 years, 4 more members are to be replaced due to forced retirement and that does not include those who quite for other reasons. This point is brought home by the recent announcement of Justice Louise Charron who is retiring early for personal reasons. At present these retirements will allow Harper to appoint at least 7 of the 9 justices.

How are they appointed?

First, there are two parts of our Canadian constitution – legislative and convention. The legislative are those parts of our constitution that are written down…such as the Constitution Act of 1982 or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms…they are physical documents that set down in words the rule of law. Another part is the convention part…those procedures that are followed not because they are prescribed in law but by tradition…they have always been done that way.

An example of this is the Governor General does not HAVE to sign a bill into law; there is no legal requirement or a legal means for the Parliament to sidestep the necessity of the Royal Assent. However, by convention the GG has never refused to give consent to a bill passed by Parliament although one Lieutenant Governor did refuse to sign three laws in 1937 that he felt were unconstitutional; a belief that was upheld by the Supreme Court/Privy Council.

The appointment of Justices to the Supreme Courts largely falls into the convention part of our constitution. Technically the GG appoints them on the advice of the Privy Council…in fact they are selected solely by the whim of Prime Minister. However by law[1] they must be members of the Bar (i.e. lawyers or judges) and by convention, the PM selects the Justices from candidates presented to him by a judicial advisory committee of the provinces ‘due’ a justice (to maintain the balance mentioned earlier. For “the west”, each province rotates, so one justice comes from BC, the next from Alberta…etc.; this also occurs in the Maritimes).

There have be over time many complaints about the power invested in the PM to “stack the deck” with ideologically friendly justices, that there was no input from the Parliament in the appointment and there was a lack of transparency in the process. In response to these criticism, Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 attempted to set up a committee to review nominees however this process became politicised when the Conservatives on the committee refused to sign off on the report from the committee because they felt the powers they had were insufficient; desiring a system that emulated the process in the USA where justices must be voted on by the senate prior to appointment…a process that is now considered a hyper-partisan inquisition. In response, the process was amended so as to allow the committee to select the “top three” candidates from a list of 7, one of which the PM would then select. Once in power, Harper did set up a review committee for his first nominee but quickly abandoned the idea and appointed the nominee of his choice stating that the process was too slow and political.

Lesson south of the border

caveat – it has been brought to my attention that the following paragraph is presented in a less than flattering light with some literary and political licence. As my readers probably know by now my political leanings are a little left of extreme left, so in my discussion of the US Supreme Court, I hope you will understand that I believe what I am writing to be honest and fair is not exactly balanced however one may wish to read it with “a grain of salt”[2]>

After years of lobbying and concerted effort the American Supreme Court has become what appears to be the judicial branch of the Republican Party promoting a right-wing corporatist agenda. For example, Clarence Thomas[3] and Antoni Scalia[4] have been noteworthy and active participants at a number of Neo-con gatherings with Thomas’s wife being a lobbyist for the prominent Tea-party group[5]. Having successive far right justices being promoted to the court (Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito being the worst with John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy not much better), the current court has become infamous for its patrician decisions including what has been called the Supreme Court coup d’état of 2000, the Citizens United case and many more. Don’t get me wrong, with the possible exception of the ruling on the “Florida Election Recount of 2000”, the courts are not ‘creating’ law but how they interpret laws and how they word their verdicts have wide ranging implications. My point is to show why and how the justices are important.

Let’s take a look at judicial philosophy; in the US there is a debate about how the constitution should be interpreted (one I am sure will become common here). On the one side you have what are called “living constitutionalist”, who believe that when the constitution was written the authors accepted that as time changes the interpretation of the constitution would change…that like a living creature the constitution (and the law it would give rise to) would evolve. A great example is the status of African Americans and their civil liberties. As society changed so did the depth and breadth of civil liberties.

On the other hand there is what is called Literalist or Originalist. They hold that what is written is written in stone, which comparing the constitution to a ‘living creature’ one would have to be, using the words of Justice Scalia, an “idiot”[6]. To them it is from the original meaning of the words used and not the intent of the founders, which should form the basis of interpreting the constitution. For example, capital punishment has been largely banned from civilized countries because it is seen as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and therefore a violation of civil rights. Justice Scalia would argue that capital punishment, at the time of the writing of the applicable part of the constitution (8th amendment), was not seen as cruel or unusual punishment therefor it does not violate civil rights and should therefore be legal[7].

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as their powers of interpretation…the very philosophical foundation of the rule of law.

Beyond how the constitution or laws are interpreted, the scope of the ruling can also have a wide ranging impact. In the US (they tend to provide more colourful, extreme and clear examples) the case of Citizens United was to determine that a third party could release a documentary about Hilary Clinton during the Primaries in the US. Clinton got an injunction because of the bias nature of the film, Clinton argued it was actual political advertising and as such violated electioneering laws. The case in the narrow sense was an issue of broadcasting rights but out of character for this court, Chief Justice Roberts decided to rule on an issue not actually part of the plaintiffs case; that being the financing of the film. This was unusual because the plaintiff (Citizens United) had already abandoned facial complaints[8]. In a landmark decision the Roberts case essentially struck down election advertising rules.

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as the question.

In Canada, our constitution is seen differently than the American one. We follow, for now, a doctrine of interpretation called Living Tree Doctrine or Doctrine of Progressive Interpretation. Lord Sankey stated: “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This means that the Constitution cannot be interpreted in the same way as an ordinary statute. Rather, it must be read within the context of society to ensure that it adapts and reflects changes.

Why should skeptics worry?

The worry we may have is that as PM, Harper has shown signs of being both extremely controlling and dictatorial. A number of political commentators have expressed concern and surprise at the level of control Harper has maintained over his party and the level of contempt for parliament in general. Remember the Conservatives were convicted of contempt of Parliament in part for lying to parliament and in part for refusing to provide government information to committees over public policy. In articles written in the Globe and Mail[9] and the National Post[10], concern was raised over the possible radical direction the court may take on if Harper’s selection, for the Supreme Court of the land, should be of a similar ideological mind as his own.

IF the fears that he does have intention, now that he has a majority to promote a neo-con agenda, the Supreme Court may be the only restraining force left in the land. Now although personally I find most of the conservative government’s policies wrong, many of them are open to valid debate this is not why I fear what Harper may do to our judiciary; what I worry about is the likelihood that Harper will take his tendencies to ideologically dictate political policy to the judiciary and that some of those ideologies should be of concern not just to leftist but skeptics in general. Some issues that may be of concern: Harper seems to be a Climate Change Denier, there have been many members of his party who wish to put restriction on marriage and abortion based on religious grounds, G20 has shown that there is a lack of respect of political and individual rights, and with his conviction of contempt of parliament and election fraud one must wonder where he may lead the country in the future.

As skeptics we must remain informed, aware and poised to action. We should insist that appointees to the Supreme Courts…any court…should base their decision on law or on science based principles…and not on political ideology or religious theology.

Upcoming cases…

Charter of Rights – Reasonable limits prescribed by law [11]

Legality of the Safe injection site – Does the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act violate the Charter of Rights because enforcement has grossly disproportionate effects on addicted persons

Hate Speech –

The Christian Truth Activists distributed four flyers in the mailboxes of various homes in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002. Four persons who received the flyers filed complaints alleging that the material in them “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation”. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission held the pamphlets, which referred to “sodomy marriage” and graphically described sexual behaviours in a derogatory manner, was hate speech.

The Christian Truth Activists argue first it does not count for it does not single out a group based on sexual orientation but a sexual behaviour and that further that IF the law does apply to sexual behaviour, then the definition of sexual orientation is overbroad in its definition.

Environmental Law[12]

Abitibi-Bowater Inc. has argued that a statutory duty to remove environmental contamination may be extinguished under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act like a commercial debt. Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act is a Federal Act that allows financially troubled corporations the opportunity to restructure their affairs to avoid bankruptcy. The Government of Newfoundland issued several environmental protection orders for Abitibi to clean up land it had contaminated by its large scale industrial activities. Abitibi argued that when it filed for a restructuring it freed itself of the obligation of the clean-up orders. The court must determine if government orders are legally equivalent to ‘commercial debit’ claims.

Intellectual Property[13]

Bell Canada argued that providing previews consisting of excerpts of works is fair dealing for the purpose of research that does not infringe copyright.

Some commercial internet sites that sell downloads of works allow users to preview the works. A preview typically consists of an extract taken from the work, for example a 30-second extract of a musical track, streamed online and accessible to consumers. On October 18, 2007, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that royalties should be collected for these communications.

Charter of Rights – Freedom of conscience and religion[14]

Mandatory attendance to an “ethics and religion” class – Ethics and Religious Culture program became mandatory in elementary schools. Based on the experience of an older child, a family requested an exemption for the course because serious harm disruption caused by forced, premature contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family, as well as the adverse effect on the religious faith of the members of this family. The school board refused to grant the exemption.

[5] The consulting firm she set up in 2011 was Liberty Consulting; previously she was employed by Tea Party-affiliated Liberty Central and earlier by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

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