Monday, October 01, 2007

Room for Religion on Public Transit?

I recently came across a local news story about the city of Mississauga rejecting a Christian charity group's request to buy advertising space on public transit. The Christian ads in question are described as "inspirational, not preachy [and]... thought provoking." One example ad reads: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand."

The rejection was reportedly made in accordance with Mississauga's policy not to sell advertising space to any religious group on city-owned property. Mississauga's Mayor, Hazel McCallion, said on the matter: "(The city's) restrictions are reasonable and necessary for the purpose of providing good governance. The city's policy was established in good faith to ensure that the city remains neutral and refrains from implementing measures that could favour one religion over another or that might have an effect of imposing one religion over another..." (I find it amusing that she happened to use the expression "good faith").

Since Christians are not the only ones being banned, this obviously can't be called a Christian persecution story. However, I still think the story is worth discussing for the issues it raises about freedom of expression. To me, it seems to be yet another example of ‘political correctness' being taken too far for the sake of supposed ‘neutrality' (or perhaps a better word to use is the ever-interesting oxymoron ‘secular neutrality').

The Christian group, whose ads have been approved in Toronto as well as in other cities and provinces, is not taking the ban sitting down. In a letter to Mayor McCallion, the group's president pointed out that the Ontario Human Rights Code "prohibits discrimination on the basis of creed in the provision of services, such as advertising." He also referred to a recent British Columbia case that determined the Canadian Charter of Rights "is applicable to a publicly-owned transit authority in respect to freedom of expression."

Local citizens have had mixed reactions to the religious ad ban, according to a report from 680 news. Here are a few quotes:

"Whoever likes it they can look at...Who doesn't like it ... they don't have to look at it. It's up to an individual... [T]he same goes for all types of advertising."

"For me, I don't think that's something I really want to read about on the bus and I do read what's up there. I don't think I want to see it."

"There's a lot of things on the buses that will offend people anyways so if it's an inspirational message it's only doing good. I don't think it's going to do any bad."

Although this may seem like a small issue, especially when compared to some of the rights issues facing other countries, it is indicative of the attitude towards religious expression in this country. It makes me wonder if other public advertising venues might be soon stripped of religious messages. For example, what's to stop people from claiming there is no room for church ads in local newspapers or phone books? Could the time come when practically all Canadian religious groups are banned from public advertising because they allegedly tip the scale of ‘neutrality?'

1 comment:

Eunice said...

I see a connection between your blog and Glenn's blog on the tyranny of email. Are we depending too heavily on communicating through these 'mechanical' means and not paying the price in time and effort or a face-to-face talk. The ad mentioned should have been inoffensive but it goes against the worldview of our society. Is it too inoffensive to have an impact?