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Arizona, U.S. Discrimination Bill Vetoed

UC blog 3.4.14This February, the State of Arizona received considerable attention throughout North America. Attention was focused on a bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to customers on religious grounds. The bill was specifically intended to protect business owners from lawsuits resulting from a decision to deny service to lesbian or gay customers on grounds of strongly held religious belief. However, critics of the bill pointed out that it could have numerous unintended consequences. Republican Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer ultimately chose to veto bill, though not before many voices weighed in. In contrast to a number of other recent legislative actions that took place in the United States, this bill had nothing to do with gay marriage.

Is Discrimination a Religious Right?

Proponents of this controversial bill said that personal religious freedoms were being protected by allowing people to express their religious beliefs without fear of lawsuit. Though a few business owners have been named in lawsuits alleging discrimination, these lawsuits took place in locations where discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was already illegal. Additionally, the services refused were specifically related to gay marriage ceremonies; bakers, florists, and other service providers who denied customers planning a gay marriage did so on the grounds that their religious convictions held that homosexuality was wrong.

The Arizona bill would have given business owners blanket permission to refuse services to customers, giving rise to questions about how the owners would ascertain whether or not a customer was actually gay. Even prominent Republic politicians argued that this bill would make it too easy to discriminate against people while using religion as a mask; Governor Rick Scott of Florida and former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed hesitation over the bill on precisely these grounds. Gov. Brewer chose to veto bill, saying that it “does not address a specific or current concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.”

Other Impacts of the Proposed Bill

The financial impacts this proposed legislation were felt even before Gov. Brewer opted to veto bill.

  • The National Football League (NFL) began looking for alternative locations to hold next year’s Super Bowl, even though a location in Arizona had already been selected.
  • The Hispanic National Bar Association canceled its annual convention, already slated to take place in Arizona.
  • Businesses across the state worried that their income and reputations would be harmed if the Governor did not veto bill.
  • Major corporations, including Apple and American Airlines, threatened to withdraw their business from the state.

Though gay marriage is perhaps the civil rights concern most widely recognized as being important to gay and lesbian members of our human family, there are numerous other challenges that are even more pressing. Access to the public marketplace without fear of discrimination is important to everyone.

2012 ULC Ordinations Up, General Religious Affiliation Down
Interior of Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Canadian Religious Beliefs dip in some provinces, rise in others.

If you are interested in getting ordained by an online church and you live in Canada, chances are that you are not alone as many Canadians have also done the same thing. A recent Internet survey conducted by the Association for Canadian Studies indicates that the number of Canadian citizens who consider religion to be a part of their lives has experienced a slight dip during the past few years. Despite the dip, some provinces of Canada have actually reported being more religious through religious actions conducted by the church. Nontraditional spirituality has also begun to rise throughout Canada and the rest of North America, in part because of the presence of online churches that allow people to follow their own paths. The Universal Life Church (ULC) is one of those churches and seeks to serve Canadians so that they can choose their own path in religious studies.

The results of the survey showed that Canadians who felt religion as a significant presence in their lives fell from 39 percent to 36 percent during last year. However the number of people in Canada who chose to get ULC Ordinations rose steadily throughout 2012. Those who catch a casual glimpse of the survey may come to the conclusion that spirituality and religion are declining in popularity among the citizens of Canada but a closer look tells a different story. There is a rise in those choosing to get involved with organizations that promote acceptance of other belief systems and that shows that rather than experiencing an overall decline, perspectives on religion are shifting in a positive way. This fact is to the benefit of ministers who decide to get ordained with the ULC.

The survey results showed the only part of Canada that didn’t experience a reduction in numbers with traditional religious organizations was in the province of Quebec. Jack Jedwab, a religious scholar who is also executive director for the Association for Canadian Studies, suggested that recent elevation of Kateri Tekakwitha (Lily of the Mohawks) to sainthood by the Catholic Church of an historical figure is at least partially responsible for this regional trend. Kateri Tekakwitha, or Lily of the Mohawks, recently became the first First Nations citizen to be honored with sainthood by the Catholic Church.

Although the original survey results reflect a trend toward exploration of nontraditional spirituality in favor of institutions steeped in tradition, they also indicate that many people who have always been involved with traditional religion are beginning to use ULC Ordinations to enhance their beliefs by incorporating a creed of freedom and tolerance into their existing ideology.

With the number people deciding to get ordained in the ULC growing throughout many parts of the United States, it makes sense that those in Canada will follow the trend.  With their storehouse located in the beautiful city of Seattle, WA, USA; the ULC is an excellent alternative for those who need a significant spiritual presence in their lives but may not feel comfortable in traditional religious venues.
Some Ordained Ministers Cut From Prison Chaplain Program
ordained ministers, prison, inmate

Inmates will have to choose between the services of a Christian minister, regardless of their faith, or no spiritual counseling at all

The recent decision by Canadian authorities to terminate the contracts of non-Christian prison chaplains may have negative repercussions for ordained ministers of the Universal Life Church. Vic Toews, Public Safety Minister, suggested paying non-Christian ministers for national prison services was an inappropriate use of public funds.

Although 57 percent of Canadian inmates identify as Christian, at least 10 percent claim membership in other faiths. By firing spiritual teachers of these other faiths, the government is sending a clear message that Christianity is the official religion of Canada.

Toews has suggested that Christian ordained ministers can adequately counsel these prisoners of other faiths. Muslim, Jewish and other faith leaders have expressed doubts about how pastors unfamiliar with their beliefs can address the spiritual needs of non-Christians.

The decision to exclude non-Christian clergy follows the September revocation by Toews of permission for a Wiccan priest to minister in the penitentiary system. By subsequently firing all non-Christians, it seems clear that Toews is engaging in damage control. His assertion that Christian ministers can adequately assist inmates of other faiths seems far-fetched. While Christian pastors may be experts in their own sects, expertise in every other religion is unlikely.

Since persons who get ordained in the Universal Life Church hold diverse spiritual views, it is likely that Church clergy will be excluded under the scheme. Many Universal Life Church ministers incorporate the spiritual views and practices of numerous religions into their ministry. If the Canadian government intends to enforce traditional Christianity as the de facto state religion, ministers in nontraditional Christian denominations may be prevented from prison work. Since Universal Life has no required, exclusively Christian dogma, their ordained ministers will probably be barred.

Despite protestations by Toews that the Canadian government doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, people who get ordained in religions other than Christianity will clearly not have the same opportunity to minister to prisoners. Toews maintains that the Canadian government isn’t in the business of promoting a specific religion while simultaneously intentionally funding only Christian chaplains for this important work.

Even though Christians make up the bulk of the prison population, inmates of other faiths will be denied access to chaplains who understand their respective faiths. About 4.5 percent of the prison population is Muslim while 4 percent follow First Nations religious traditions. Buddhism is the chosen faith of 2 percent of inmates. Small numbers of Jewish and Sikh inmates are also among the 23,000 people in Canadian Federal prisons. It is doubtful that Christian ministers will have the knowledge to adequately address the faith needs of these diverse religions.

At present, the prison system employs 71 full-time Christian pastors and two religious leaders of other faiths. The prisons also employ around 100 part-time chaplains, 20 of whom are non-Christian. The contract cancellations will not be effective until March 2013. Although the program has a budget of $6.4 million annually, no figures have been released showing how much the staffing changes will save.

Interfaith Ministers and Overlapping Consensus

symbols made of light projected on a wall

“We are all children of the same Universe.”

That is the main tenet behind the philosophy of the Universal Life Church. When you get ordained, you become an interfaith minister in the truest sense of the word; you serve those who believe in their creator, regardless of race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation.

The idea that we all share common beliefs and values, no matter by what means we arrive at or express those beliefs and values, is paramount to the core philosophy of the Universal Life Church and, ideally, to all of those who get ordained as an interfaith minister in our Church.

However, this is not a new concept. The notion was first put forth by John Rawls, who coined the term “overlapping consensus,” in his “Theory of Justice.” It was used as the basis of Charles Taylor’s nominal work “Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights” as the foundation for true peace and equality in a modern and enlightened society.

Overlapping consensus is the idea that society functions best when persons agree on certain norms that govern human behavior, while agreeing to keep in check differences in why these are the proper norms. This applies to political, national, and religious beliefs.

He uses as an illustration the fundamental differences between the Eastern idea that all members of society should act in concert for the common good as opposed the more individualist nature of Western thought, while reaching the same conclusions concerning the nature of the implied rights of society in general.

These norms can be described as Universal rights; basic rights that we all share as the essence of our humanity. While there is no universal agreement on the full extent of these rights or an exact enumeration of what they are, Taylor believes that is essential to the future of modern civilization the we come to a general understanding of certain basic fundamentals that we can all agree on as necessary for peaceful coexistence without the need to justify why they are right.

In other words, there are certain things that we instinctively ‘know’ as an enlightened species. Taylor refers to them as subjective rights, differentiated by natural rights that we are all born with and those rights that are conferred by law.

I think we can all agree on the following:

– People have a right to dignity as human beings.
– People have the right to live.
– People have a right to freedom in their associations and beliefs, free from prejudice.

The Dalai Lama recently reiterated this sentiment when he stated that we should teach and reinforce core moral values; the ideas of peace, justice, equality, and love for our fellow beings. However, since the main source of conflict and division in and between organized religions and differing faiths is in matters of dogma and not ideology, it is best to focus on non-religious teaching to impart these ideals.

Simply put, don’t clutter the essential message with insignificant details that don’t matter in the long run. It is only when we agree put aside our differences and focus on our common beliefs and goals that there can be true peace and equality in the world.

Blind Faith – Universal Life Church Canada Blog

Blind Faith

unnamedAfter the first committee hearing discussing Bill 13 in Ontario, it had become obvious that those who oppose the measure have either not read it, or are starkly homophobic. More than twenty people spoke out against Bill 13 and its counterpart, Bill 14. The bills basically provide protections against bullying for students, and in particular, homosexual youth. Some religious groups and parents are up in arms claiming that the bill will allow the teaching of homosexual sex acts in their schools.

The idea that the bill will promote gay sex or a gay lifestyle in schools is simply preposterous. In fact, when asked by committee members to point out where in the bill this was mentioned, none of the opposition members could. Some even blatantly stated they had not read the bill, and were simply against it because gay-straight alliances (GSA) supported the issue, and in one man’s words, “GSAs promote the gay lifestyle” and the word “gay” is synonymous with “sex.”

It is important to remember that not every religious person supports homophobic ideologies. The Universal Life Church is a non-denominational religious group that supports these protections from bullying. Not only is the Church non-bigoted, but makes sure that any ordained minister are given correct information so as to not be like the parents at the committee meeting who didn’t even know what was in Bill 13.

The Universal Life Church also promotes equality, protection, and understanding for all citizens, regardless of religion, race, or any other factor. With this in mind, the Church allows a person of any religion to get ordained online as a minister for the church, thus giving anyone the same power and ministerial rights that any homophobic clergyperson may have.

Universal Life Church Canada realizes that many children and adolescents are bullied, and they all deserve protection. Given the repeat occurrences of gay bullying that leads to beatings of homosexual youth, which in some cases leads to suicide, it is imperative that protections like Bill 13 be put into place. Religious groups who have spoken out about Bill 13 have made it abundantly clear that they do not believe homosexual youth deserve protection against bullying.

Religious groups do not have to be bigoted. The Universal Life Church believes that all faiths, genders, races, and people of any sexual orientation deserve the same rights and basic human decency as any other. Allowing any member of the public to become a minister by being ordained online is a step that we have taken in the right direction. Extremist members of religions should not be the only ones to have their voices heard. When religious groups make an anti-bullying bill sound like a sex filled affront to their children and beliefs, maybe it’s time to find a more tolerant religious group that doesn’t move forward on blind faith.