Friday, December 13, 2012



Church and State

MLA O'Mahony releases survey results from "Beyond Secularism" forum

Staff/Voice photos


Ron Dart (L to R), Paul Rowe and Bill Blaikie formed a panel speaking on religion and politics at Evergreen Hall last Monday. Below, MLA Gwen O'Mahony tells the audience why she wanted to hold the forum.


ome people feel that the Church should have nothing to do with politics. What place does political agnostics have in the role of government? With a mandate to govern fairly, regardless of constituent's tenets, how secular should politicians be in their decision-making process?


These were some of the topics discussed by a diverse crowd of about 130-140 people Monday in the Slesse Room at Evergreen Hall there for a public forum called “Beyond Secularism”.


The discussion, hosted by MLA Gwen O’Mahony, featured speakers Bill Blaikie, fellow at the Knowles-Woodsworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg; Ron Dart, professor of political science and religious studies at the University of the Fraser Valley; and Paul Rowe, assistant professor of religion at the Religion in Canada Institute at Trinity Western University, who talked about blending politics and religion and how morals and ethics play into the political decision-making process.


Each panelist spoke in their areas of expertise for about 10 minutes, and together the trio fielded questions from an animated audience afterward.


The meeting brought out several well known faces from around Chilliwack; most notable were Mayor Sharon Gaetz, UFV President Mark Evered and Rollie Keith.


Most people stayed to the end of the meeting, and afterward O’Mahony was busy chatting and absorbing more responses from people.


O’Mahony said in an e-mail Thursday that the meeting was effective in doing what it was intended to do, and she received a truckload of e-mails in response.


A survey was made available at the meeting, and not surprising was were the types of responses.


“The feedback was extremely positive. I'm still receiving letters and comments from people who attended and were impressed with the forum.”


Find the survey results released Wednesday and more photos below.



Beyond Secularism survey reveals community seeking a lively discourse

The results of the Community Survey prepared by staff at Gwen O’Mahony’s Community Office, have now been tabulated.  With responses from a sampling of just over 11% of those in attendance, they provide a unique insight into the conduct of public forums on what can sometimes be sensitive topics of discussion.

“It’s clear that the Beyond Secularism forum struck a chord in the community,” said Gwen O’Mahony, MLA for Chilliwack-Hope and host of the event.  “We’re looking at the possibility of making this an annual event in recognition of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, celebrated each December 10. Using a similar theme and format, we envision including a range of philosophical perspectives”.

·         71% of respondents said they would attend another such event were it to be planned and hosted by the Community Office.  One respondent commented positively on the effectiveness of the Town Hall format of the event.

·         53% of those responding to the survey identified themselves as people of faith, with one person commenting:  “Every human is a person of faith”.

·         76.5% of the sampling felt the evening’s subject matter was relevant and interesting.  Not all shared this sentiment, with almost 12% questioning the relevancy of religion and politics as topics of discussion.  One participant went so far as to respond that such a discussion was “gut wrenchingly horrible”.  Another simply said these areas were “not relevant”.

·         The panel’s response to questions posed by participants in the forum was praised by a majority of survey respondents, at 53%.  Ron Dart was described in one response as “very articulate”.  Other responses noted a positive and respectful atmosphere.  One respondent felt that questions offered by an atheist in attendance were not adequately addressed.  The effectiveness of the panel in the context of the discussion presented was approved of by 59% of respondents and praised as “so well done” by one.

·         Several respondents called for a wider spectrum of thought on the panel and the inclusion of secular experts.


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