The following letter is being sent this week to all members of Parliament. If you support this intitiative, I encourage you to contact your MP and let him or her know your thoughts on this.
Canadian Secular Alliance
216 Beverley Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 1Z3
Feb 15, 2009
Canadian Members of Parliament
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Dear Honourable Member,
On behalf of the Canadian Secular Alliance – a voluntary organization of Canadians who believe in church-state separation and the neutrality of government in matters of religion – I invite you to make our national anthem secular.
Recent weeks have witnessed much controversy surrounding a New Brunswick principal’s decision to end the daily singing of O Canada at his school, at the request of several families. Although the specific reason for the objection has not been confirmed, many have speculated that it is the anthem’sreference to God.
We strongly believe that in order for a nation to be truly pluralistic, the government should take no official position on whether God exists, or which organized religion speaks on his behalf if he does. To do otherwise creates two tiers of citizenship by excluding those who do not share the beliefs preferred
by the state. If Canada truly is a secular nation, its laws and public institutions should reflect that fact.
This is why our national anthem would be improved if secularized.
The anthem’s reference to God is a historical artifact from an era when Canadians were virtually all Christians of European ancestry. Since then, Canada’s cultural and religious landscape has shifted significantly, and the anthem should be updated to reflect this reality.
The most recent poll, conducted by Harris-Decima in May 2008, found that 23% of Canadians say that they do not believe in any god. For young Canadians under age 25, the figure was 36%. This is by far the largest religious minority demographic and by far the fastest growing in terms of sheer size.
It is true that the mention of God in the anthem reflects Canada’s Christian heritage. But few realize that the English lyrics to O Canada, written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908, originally contained no mention of God. Weir’s original verse, "O Canada, glorious and free", was later altered to "God keep our land
glorious and free”. By returning to Weir’s original words, we could simultaneously update the anthem to better reflect modern Canada’s diversity of beliefs, and honour an older, secular Canadian heritage.
The French lyrics currently contain lyrics that state, as translated, "As in thy arm ready to wield the sword, So also is it ready to carry the cross." These lyrics are even less inclusive than their English counterparts, and ought to be changed to reflect the pluralistic society of modern Canada.
I invite you to review the accompanying fact sheet for further discussion of this issue. Our national anthem is an important way for Canadians to show pride and respect for their country.
Please consider making it easier for all Canadians – regardless of their supernatural beliefs – to show their patriotism.
Vice-President, Canadian Secular Alliance
Contact: Kevin Smith, CSA Media Officer (416) 606-7987 firstname.lastname@example.org
Canadian Secular Alliance
216 Beverley Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 1Z3
The Canadian Secular Alliance invites parliamentarians to make the national
anthem secular - and thereby make it easier for all Canadians to show their patriotism
What is the Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA)?
· The CSA is a voluntary organization of Canadians who believe in church-state separation and the neutrality of government in matters of religion.
Is the CSA trying to promote atheism, or turn Canada into an atheist country?
· No. The CSA believes in church-state separation – that the government should not favour one religion over others, or religious belief over non-belief. This is a principle cherished by religious and non-religious Canadians alike.
Why should the anthem make no mention of God?
· The most recent poll, conducted by Harris-Decima in May 2008, found that 23% of Canadians say that they do not believe in any god. For Canadians under age 25, the figure was 36%.
· This puts a sizeable fraction of the Canadian population in a position where showing love for their country also entails invoking a deity whose existence they reject.
Isn’t it unprecedented to alter the lyrics of the anthem?
· No. The English lyrics, originally written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908, were altered many times before being finalized by the National Anthem Act of 1980.
· In fact, Weir’s original version contained no mention of God. The God-reference itself is the product of a later alteration of the words.
What specific change is the CSA proposing?
· We advocate returning to the original words of the anthem that existed prior to the introduction of the God-reference: "O Canada, glorious and free" instead of "God keep our land glorious and free”.
What about the French version of the lyrics?
· The French lyrics to O Canada contain extensive references to the religious imperialism that was widespread at the time they were written: “As in thy arm ready to wield the sword, so also is it ready to carry the cross”, and “Thy valour steeped in faith”. Unlike the English lyrics, which can be made secular by a one word change, the French lyrics will require significant modification. This is a topic for
a separate national debate.
Doesn’t the CSA have something better to do? Isn’t this trivial?
· Perhaps. But in our experience, the mention of God in the anthem is often cited as evidence that Canada is a “Christian nation”, and used to argue for substantive public policies – for instance, the public funding of Catholic religious schools, or the public subsidy of organizations whose only purpose is to advance religious belief. Consequently, “trivial” issues of symbolism become relevant
to highly non-trivial debates about government policy.
Doesn’t the proposed change violate “tradition” and Canada’s Christian heritage?
· Some traditions need to be updated to reflect the times. The reference to God in the anthem is a historical artifact from an era when Canadians were virtually all Christians of European ancestry. Since then, Canada’s cultural and religious landscape has shifted significantly, and the anthem should be updated to reflect this reality.
Shouldn’t non-believers just accept the will of the religious majority?
· To our knowledge, the Canadian government takes no official position on whether God exists, or if he does, which organized religion speaks for him. If Canada truly is a secular nation, its laws and public institutions should reflect that fact.
· If, on the other hand, Canada were to formulate public policy based on the religious beliefs of the majority, it would have no basis for criticizing the repression of religious minorities and nonbelievers in theocratic regimes around the world.
Does the CSA want the anthem banned?
· No. The CSA is not an extremist organization. The anthem is an important way for Canadians to show pride and respect for their country. We wish to work constructively with government to modernize the words to the anthem, and thereby make it easier for all Canadians to show their patriotism.
· In the meantime, we encourage Canadians who value church-state separation to return to the original words of the anthem that existed prior to the introduction of the reference to God:
"O Canada, glorious and free" instead of "God keep our land glorious and free”.
For more information, contact:
Media Officer, Canadian Secular Alliance