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Updates on the British Columbia Humanist Association Closing Off 2019


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/12/12

Ian Bushfield, M.Sc., is the Executive Director of the British Columbia Humanist Association (BCHA). Here we discuss exciting updates for the BCHA in 2019 following in the line of some of the other update-interviews with the BCHA Executive Director.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: It has been some number of months since the last major update on the activities of the British Columbia Humanist Association. What have been some of the major community activities developments in terms of the Sunday meetings and book club?

Ian Bushfield: The BCHA supports Humanists across British Columbia with members from Saanich to Fort St John and many communities in between. We’re proud to work with local groups like the Victoria Secular Humanist Association, the Comox Valley Humanists, the Sunshine Coast Secular Humanist Association, Langley-Maple Ridge Humanists and Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics & Humanists Association. Here in Metro Vancouver (where I work from), some of our events – like the Sunday meetings and book club you mentioned – have been operated variously by our board, volunteers or staff in the past. As our organization continues to grow – we’re now over 320 paid members and about 3000 in our email database – our board is getting out of the direct operations of events and we’ll be transitioning those meetings to local volunteers to manage them going forward.

Beyond that, we’re excited to continue building up new ways for individuals to be a part of the Humanist tent that perhaps didn’t always feel as welcome in freethought groups. Our Queer Humanist Alliance will continue to meet and build its presence in the new year and we’re eager to try other initiatives to build the nonreligious community.

Jacobsen: There have been political and research reports updates too. What has been done by the BCHA, in coordination with others, on the secularism front?

Bushfield: We were really lucky to receive significant funding from Canada Summer Jobs this year to hire three summer interns, two of whom worked on our campaigns. A big chunk of that work, as we’ll discuss, was around prayers in the BC Legislature but they were also able to dive into prayers at municipal councils, religious property tax exemptions and catalogue the various laws that exempt religion.

Another aspect, that we worked on with our allies at Centre for Inquiry Canada was to look at how much it costs Canadians to recognize “advancement of religion” as a charitable purpose. That report, the first of a series CFIC is working on with us, estimated that subsidy could be as high as $2.6 billion.

Jacobsen: What happened in the political arena around the BC Legislature and prayers in 2019?

Bushfield: I don’t want it to come off as too pompous but I think there’s a good case to be made that our House of Prayers report was unprecedented in how it looked at religious privilege in Canada. It represents the culmination of about 60 people’s work over several months, looking at over 15 years worth of data to make the case for ending prayers in the legislature. I really encourage everyone to check it out as we know it’s being looked at across the country.

Prior to this report, the practice in the BC Legislature was for a different MLA each morning to get up and begin the day’s proceedings with a “prayer” selected from one of five standard prayers provided by legislature staff or to deliver one of their own. Unsurprisingly, we found the prayers included a grossly disproportionate number of religious prayers compared to the increasing secular nature of the province (or as we argued, there should be no prayers since our governments have a duty of religious neutrality).

That effort, coupled with the nearly 600 emails supporters sent to their MLAs this fall, led the Legislature to amend its standing orders to rename the section from “prayers” to “prayers and reflections.”

While we still balk at the inclusion of “prayers” in a formal aspect of our government, this is a big step toward a more secular BC and one that recognizes that not all British Columbians – and not all MLAs – are religious. Looking ahead, I’m really eager to see if this change encourages nonreligious and non-practicing MLAs to provide secular affirmations in that period.

Jacobsen: What are the expected initiatives for 2020 on the political and social activism front?

Bushfield: We’re going to continue rolling out the results of our research from this past summer, including reports on prayers in municipal councils, the costs of religious property tax exemptions, more data on private schools and how our laws privilege religion in other ways. We’re also going to continue to work with our partners in BC, across Canada and around the world to advance secular and progressive values.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ian.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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