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Atheists to explore bullying bill

Panel discussion open to public

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And now from the other end of the religious spectrum, atheists are about to weigh in on Bill 18.

The Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) will hold a panel discussion Saturday on Bill 18. It will be open to the public.

"In light of the recent controversy surrounding Bill 18, the members of HAAM felt it was important to explore the bill and to invite the public to ask a panel of interested parties for their perspective on its contents," HAAM president Donna Harris said Wednesday.

Bill 18 is Education Minister Nancy Allan's anti-bullying legislation, expected to be law by the time school opens in September.

Some opponents claim Bill 18 violates their religious freedom.

They oppose a key provision, which requires any public school and any private school receiving public funding to accommodate a student who wishes to form a gay-straight alliance.

A crowd of 1,200 people attended a prayer meeting at Steinbach Christian High School Feb. 24 to oppose the bill. Southland Church pastor Ray Duerksen told his Steinbach congregation in a sermon God can replace councillors, trustees and other public officials who do not publicly oppose Bill 18.

HAAM's public session runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Millennium Library.

Speakers include:

  • Jim Rondeau, minister of healthy living, seniors and consumer affairs;
  • Chad Smith, executive director of the Rainbow Resource Centre;
  • Sharon Wilson, chairwoman of the Winnipeg Presbytery of the United Church;
  • University of Manitoba law Prof. Donn Short;
  • Jeff Olsson, humanist and member of the Clergy Project, a North American organization of former clergy.

"There has been so much confusion and so many opinions floating around that HAAM thought it was time to ask the experts for some real answers," Harris said.

"That's why our panel members comprise all the areas of the bill that have been written about: government legislation, law, religion and those who have knowledge of what gay-straight alliances are all about and how they affect gay kids," Harris said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2013 A6

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