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Atheist feels looked down upon at Remembrance Day event


Note: The names have been changed at the request of the familyAt public events across Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s not uncommon for a priest, pastor or other religious leader to open with a prayer.

Compass file photo
There was a large crowd on hand for the Remembrance Day ceremony in Harbour Grace this year.

“Let’s bow our heads and pray,” they might say.

Those without religious affiliations might still participate in the event, but they don’t pray along with the rest in attendance.

That is the case for Andrea, a mom in her 30s from Harbour Grace, who hesitantly refers to herself as an atheist.

Her young child is being raised to know and understand different religions, but Andrea and her husband Nate are not teaching her that there is one she needs to follow. And they feel it is their right to do so.

Until recently, it has never been an issue for the family. They don’t tell people they don’t practice religion and no one has made a big deal out of it when they find out.

But on Remembrance Day this year, Andrea was put in an uncomfortable position, she told The Compass.

Uncomfortable situation

When the ceremony began, a local minister said a prayer. Andrea did not bow her head or fold her hands, but stood silently while the prayer was taking place. She could sense someone looking at her, and instinctively glanced over at two women — one in her 40s and another in her 60s. They were looking straight at her.

“They looked up to see who wasn’t praying,” Andrea said, noting it wasn’t just a look. She felt they were shaming her for not partaking in the prayer.

Praying doesn’t offend Andrea or her family. They grew up with Christian beliefs. And neither has complained about the use of prayer at public events before. But they are starting to feel like they’re being disrespected.

“Every Remembrance Day is a big deal to us,” she explained. “Nate is former military. We’ve lost friends who were military. It’s a lifestyle.”

On a day when Canada remembers those fallen in service, all Andrea could think about was those four eyes on her.

“I felt like saying, ‘We respect your religious ideals, but it doesn’t work the other way?’”

When others start passing judgement on one’s beliefs, Andrea gets upset.

Changes

After sharing her story online, Andrea received many words of support, with some confirming they’ve had similar experiences.

Andrea admitted it’s hard for people to say they don’t believe in a higher power, an Allah or a God, especially in Newfoundland, which is predominantly Christian. Out of fear of being judged, harassed or criticized, Andrea and Nate, and many of their friends, also don’t openly tell people they don’t practice religion.

The 2011 census says over 31,000 people in our province reported to have no religious affiliation, up from almost 13,000 10 years earlier. Over 472,000 considered themselves Christians in 2011, with 493,000 in 2001.

In the mid-1990s, schools in the province were amalgamated, removing the Catholic school system. Since then there has not been prayer in schools. Some communities still host events where a minister will say grace before a meal or a reverend will bless someone or something in attendance.

“They took it out of schools for a reason,” Andrea noted. “Why it is still at public events? Shouldn’t everyone feel welcome?”

She felt now was the time to bring it to the forefront, but also wants to make suggestions for communities that still have a prayer at public ceremonies.

“Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable standing with a preacher at an event,” she said. “A nice speech or a poem would have been fine, instead of bow your head and pray.”

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

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