First, we had the story of Faith McGregor, the woman who insists on compelling a barber to cut her hair, in violation of his (seemingly) sincere religious beliefs. Then, we had the story of Arun Smith, the “7th year human rights student” (and, already, my nominee for ass clown of the year for 2013) who “promotes” human rights by violently suppressing the speech of others. Now, we have Ashu Solo, a self-described atheist, who has filed a human rights complaint against the city of Saskatoon, because a city counsellor said grace before a volunteer appreciation banquet. If the name sounds familiar, he had previously filed a complaint seeking to bar Saskatoon from running “Merry Christmas” signs on its buses.
From yesterday’s Post:
He [Mr. Solo] filed the complaint on May 1, a month after attending an appreciation banquet as a representative of the city’s Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee.
“Saskatoon’s mayor, Don Atchison, called on Saskatoon councillor Randy Donauer to lead the diverse audience in a Christian prayer,” he said. “I was surprised by that. I thought it was highly inappropriate and highly discriminatory, especially in 2013 in a diverse, multicultural city like Saskatoon.”“I don’t know the name of the prayer. I understand it’s a prayer that happens before dinner, it’s called grace. I don’t know much about Christianity, I don’t go to church or anything,” he said.
Mr. Solo said he felt it was inappropriate to confront the men during the event, but later sent them an email, copied to the local media, giving them 10 days to agree to refrain from holding future prayer recitations at civic events. He also asked for an apology and an agreement that the city would respect a separation of church and state.
What all these stories have in common is that the complainants, purportedly in the name of “human rights”, are acting like complete and utter assholes.
Let me step back. To my mind, the purpose of human rights legislation is to compel people to act in the way that we think reasonable, polite and decent people should act. We don’t care if you’re a racist, sexist, homophobe, or what have you, we just want you to treat your fellow citizens with a modicum of respect, decency and tolerance in the public sphere. In short, we don’t want people to act like assholes.
Now, I know my libertarian friends will have a problem with governments trying to legislate civility, and they have a point. But let’s be honest, so long as human rights commissions are cracking down on people who are acting like assholes, say, the restaurant owner who refuses to serve black people, or the landlord who refuses to rent to homosexuals, I suspect most Canadian aren’t bothered by that. Hey, no one likes an asshole.
Unfortunately, the concept of what is a “human rights” violation has now been extended, at least the minds of purported human rights activists, to encompass decidedly non-asshole behaviour. For Arun Smith, people who politely express mildly conservative opinions constitute a violation of his human rights. You may not like their beliefs, but can anyone say that they’re acting like assholes? You don’t have to agree with the barber who refuses to cut woman’s hair, but if he does it out of a sincere religious belief (however misguided), is he really acting like an asshole? Is the city counsellor who says grace before a meal acting like an asshole? Would any reasonable person characterize the targets of those complaints as assholes?
On the other hand, those stories make the news precisely because a reasonable person would think that the complainants are acting like complete assholes. Arun Smith, in vandalizing the Carleton “Free Speech Wall”, is indisputably acting like an asshole (and, potentially a criminal asshole at that). Faith McGregor, in trying to compel a Muslim barber to cut her hair despite his religious beliefs (even after he offered to arrange to have another barber cut her hair) is acting like an asshole (and a bully), in seeking to impose her will on her fellow Canadians. Ashu Solo, in trying to prevent city officials from saying grace (or wishing bus riders a Merry Christmas) is undeniably acting like an asshole.
What makes it worse, is that (at least in the case of Ms. McGregor and Mr. Solo) these complainants are allowed to hijack our human rights regimes to use the coercive power of the state to act like assholes. There’s something profoundly wrong with a human rights system that is designed to protect people from assholes, if it can be twisted and used by assholes to torment otherwise innocent citizens. This is all the more egregious since, in most human rights regimes, the costs of the plaintiffs are borne by the state, while the defendant has to defend themselves.
Mr. Solo claims to be offended by the saying of grace at a city thank-you banquet. Grow up, you twerp! We live in a multi-cultural society. It includes people of faith. Our government institutions will reflect that. In Saskatoon, people will likely say grace. In Brampton, the volunteer banquet likely won’t have steak on the menu (reflecting the dietary preferences of that city’s hefty Hindu community), while in Calgary, the steak may be Hallal (reflecting that community’s significant Muslim community). That isn’t an attack on Mr. Solo’s right to be an atheist, no one is compelling him to say grace, nor ostracizing him because he doesn’t say grace (no one cares. Look around you Mr. Solo, half the people in the room were probably checking their iphones). It’s a recognition that people of all faiths (or no faiths) are welcome in the public sphere of our society. Indeed, the only person trying to impose his religious (or, more accurately, non-religious) views on anyone else in this story is Mr. Solo. In short, he’s being an asshole.
What’s really galling about Mr. Solo’s complaint is that he tries to justify it in the name of promoting diversity. Apparently, in his mind, diversity means everyone should live their lives in accordance with his tenets. As with many purported human rights activists, he’s a big fan of diversity so long as it means that everyone acts like him. Guess what, Mr. Solo, diversity doesn’t work that way. If “diversity” has any meaning at all (other than as an Orwellian buzzword to be thrown around by people like Mr. Solo), it has to be that as a society we are tolerant of the (reasonable) religious (or non-religious) practices of all people. That includes putting up with the odd Christian saying grace. To complain about that is churlish, and makes Mr. Solo a first-rate asshole.
There are real human rights violations in the world. Sitting through someone saying grace isn’t one of them. People who purport to take human rights seriously should focus on real human rights violation, i.e., cases where people act like assholes towards their fellow Canadians. They shouldn’t be using our human rights laws to act like assholes themselves. Doing so not only discredits them, but discredits our human rights laws.
Finally, as an aside, am I alone in being somewhat surprised by Mr. Solo’s apparent ignorance of the Christian practice of saying grace before eating? According to him:
“I don’t know the name of the prayer. I understand it’s a prayer that happens before dinner, it’s called grace. I don’t know much about Christianity, I don’t go to church or anything,” he said.
Apart from the observation that blessing a meal before eating is hardly a uniquely Christian practice (or, indeed, a religious one – even the odd atheist will express gratitude for their meals), what does it say about Mr. Solo’s apparent lack of intellectual curiosity or interest in the religious practices, and cultural diversity, of his fellow Canadians that a common practice like saying grace is foreign to him? I’m neither a Jew, nor a Muslim, nor a Hindu (nor, for any practical purposes, a Christian), I don’t go to synagogue or temple (or church, for that matter) but I have at least a passing familiarity with the religious traditions of those faiths relating to food (if only because I have friends who practice those faiths who invite me to eat with them every now and again). And yet, here’s Mr. Solo, who sits on Saskatoon’s Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee, who is seemingly ignorant of the commonplace practice of saying grace. That doesn’t say much about Mr. Solo’s openness to cultural diversity. Then again, given he’s such an asshole, it wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t get a lot of dinner invitations, whether from people of faith or otherwise.