New Year, New Execs.

Hey guys! FreeSAY recently went through an administrative shuffle, as previous admins have graduated and passed down the torch
onto new leadership…. Without further ado, here’s a look at FreeSAY’s amazing 2013-2014 team!

President: Robert Parolin
Vice President: Nicole D’Souza
Executive Assistant: Maxim Steiner
Project Assistant: Martina Moravcikova
Design Technician: Calvin Fennell
Event Planner: Daniel Lee

**Note: Our new meeting time will be Mondays from 5:30-7:30PM (location TBA), we look forward to seeing you all then!**
While we won’t divulge our lineup of intellectually stimulating discussion topics just yet, here’s a look at some past issues we’ve gone over:

-Alternative Medecine
-Gender Inequalities
-Freedom of Expression
-Morality and Ethics
-Rights: What are they?
-Public Funding of Religion
-Ayn Rand. Individualism and Selfishness
-Cultural Integration and the Multicultural Society

The Great Veil Debate

I remember a while back during one of my courses, I got into a heated discussion with a professor about the wearing of the Muslim veil.  Needless to say my colleagues were surprised to hear that as a former Muslim I opposed the Muslim head scarf (the burka, hijab, and niqāb).

For its entire mystique the Muslim head scarf, in all its form, is nothing more than male ownership of female sexuality. Little do western observers realize that often the choice between the wearing of the hijab and not wearing it comes down to severe physical harm. Instead, it is assumed that women who wear the veil do so of their own volition.

And while this may be true in some instances, the concept of choice can only be used as a valid reason in the context of an environment free of medieval sexual apartheid. Consider this, currently in the Islamic republic of Iran the penalty for not wearing the veil correctly is seventy-five lashes. The lashes are sometimes administered publicly for the purpose of discouraging others from following suit. Similarly In Saudi Arabia (the birth place of Islam and home to its holy shrines) the punishment can be as severe as beheading by sword.

We also hear Muslims and their defenders espouse the concept of modesty, often perversely citing examples of sexual assault on women whom dress provocatively as evidence of the hijabs necessity.  But this line of argument assumes that women who dress provocatively are asking to be assaulted and further whitewashes the fact that in cases involving women that have been raped and assaulted in a Muslim country the women are sentenced to stoning while men pay a mere fine.

It is important to also consider the hijab to be more than a religious obligation. This is especially true of women who wear the head covering in western countries. Immigration is a traumatic and emotional experience. It is often the case that as immigrants we find comfort in familiar customs that not only distinguish us from the rest of society but also gives us a sense of communal solidarity.

The western observer should be weary of assumptions behind the wearing of the veil. There are many women around the world to this day that struggle against sexual oppression in places like Iran and whose rights have been ignored for sake of medieval traditions.  Whatever the politically correct view may be, the Muslim head scarf is a form of sexual repression whose sole purpose is to validate male ownership (father, husband etc) of a women’s body and “honor”. There are many women around the Muslim world that would relish the opportunity to dress as they please, and would only dream of not being harassed because of the way they dress themselves.  It irks me to see women in Canada “choosing” to wear this medieval costume, knowing that there are women elsewhere who are being severely harmed because they “choose” not to wear it. To me, this is akin to a freed slave wearing a slave collar proudly!

The Danger of Supernatural Beliefs: Tears of Blood, The Murder of a Child Witch & The Mother Who Slit her Child’s Throat

What happens when supernatural beliefs become a hazard to the safety and health of a society?

All over the globe, cases are popping up which demonstrate that supernatural beliefs can be devastating for those that believe in them as well as for others.

In recent news, a very questionable event took place In Egypt. An 18 year old girl named Dawa’a claimed that the tears of blood she cried were a sign of jinn, the spirits or ghosts of Egyptian folklore.

The issue here is that crying tears of blood should cause concern for the health of this teen. Ignoring the condition due to beliefs that the cause was supernatural could be considered a form of neglect.

The teenager became unconscious as the Muslim scholar Amr Al-Laithi recited verses from the Qu’ran over her body. Upon waking, Dawa’a said she could not remember anything except having an extremely painful head-ache. However, when speaking of her experience, the teen claimed that she was touched by a “tribe of about one thousand jinn,”.

Crying tears of blood, also called haemolacria, can be a symptom of serious medical conditions, such as a tumor or an internal injury. The girl received no medical attention to ensure her health or safety.

Near London, England, Kristy Bamu was tortured and killed under the accusation of practicing witchcraft. His sister, Magalie Bamu and her partner Eric Bikubi, claimed that he was practicing spells on a young child.

Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi, the murderers of Kristy Bamu.

Both Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi were jailed for life. Under no circumstances should a belief in witchcraft be a justification for the murder and sadistic torture of anyone. What is most distressing about the death of Kristy Bamu is that he was killed by his family, by people who he trusted and loved, all due to ignorant beliefs.

Various other children in Britain have been abused and/or killed under similar accusations that the children were practicing witchcraft.

Another terrible example took place in Magnolia, Texas. A mother named Daphne Spurlock stomped on her 5 year old’s chest and slit his throat with a kitchen knife because she heard voices that told her to rid her son of a demonic possession.

A photo of Michael Spurlock, who remains in critical condition after the incident.

Daphne Spurlock was heavily involved in her church, Magnolia Apostolic Tabernacle, and was an extremely religious individual. Take a look at her Facebook profile, where she regularly posts about her religious beliefs.

In each of these cases, the supernatural beliefs of a society caused people to harm (either intentionally or unintentionally) others.

I think that this is an atrocious problem in our world today. We need to step back from our belief in the supernatural and see it for what it really is; potentially dangerous. Reason and skepticism are necessary in our world to have safe and just societies, where it will not be tolerated for people to harm others simply based on their supernatural beliefs.

Free[SAY] at The Reason Rally! – Washington D.C. – 2012

Considered the largest secular gathering in all history, the Reason Rally took place at the National Mall in Washington D.C. on March 24th, 2012, and  Free[SAY] was there. The overall message of the rally was that atheists do have a strong population and that  we, just as any other people, deserve our voices to be heard. It was also a day to celebrate being part of our group, and to celebrate our identity as atheists. We are often misunderstood as a group, and the Reason Rally was an excellent way to show our true faces and what it means to be atheists.

Free[SAY] began travelling from Toronto on the Friday night before the event and arrived in Washington D.C. the next morning. We checked into our hostel which was small and cozy (with bunk beds!) for our group of nine.   We were looking forward to this event for months. As soon as we heard the events date announced we instantly began working out how we could bring our campus group of atheists to the rally. We had never attended such a huge, historical event before. So naturally, we were very excited and proud to be a part of it. We were so anxious to find out what it would be like to be a part of the rally.

Even though it was raining lightly, and it was slightly chilly, when we arrived at the event by metro, I was stunned by the crowds that had attended. It was announced that there we were among 20,000 people altogether! What an amazing turn out. Nothing else could describe the emotions I felt being in such a wonderful crowd of people. What especially moved me was knowing that we were all connected by one seemingly simple idea, the idea that we are without a god. It was beautiful and most importantly, powerful.

To know that I was side by side with people who honour reason, rationality, science and knowledge felt amazing. To know that we were not being judged by our rejection of religion but instead we were accepted, understood and celebrated for it. We embraced our atheism will full force.

It was great to hear the speakers messages, not timid or ashamed, speaking about the rejection of superstition, and about the atrocities that religious ideas can bring about. There was also humour, music, and poetry. Most of all there a feeling of respect. Respect for the equality of all people regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation or ability. Everyone was welcome to take part in the rally.

The messages were about the education of people about reason and science, about protecting our governments from fantasies and superstitions. It was about being moral without religion, without a god above us.

In the end, the idea that Free[SAY] took from the Reason Rally was that we as atheists should be proud of ourselves,  and that we should stand up against those who bring religious ideas and actions that are harmful to our society. That we should not be afraid to be atheists openly.

The Reason Rally was like the grand coming out party for atheists. At least for myself I can say that it was the first big secular event I had attended, and it will be an important part of my life forever. It was certainly an awesome way to finish Free[SAY]‘s year!

Here is a great photograph of our group with the Washington Monument behind us.

Why Legal Abortion is Vital for the Safety, Health & Freedom of Women

What is this ban on abortion? It is a survival of the veiled face, of the barred window and the locked door, burning, branding, mutilation, stoning, of all the grip of ownership and superstition come down on woman, thousands of years ago.” – Stella Browne

Does person-hood begin in the womb or after birth? Is abortion the murdering of an innocent human child or is it simply terminating a mass of cells? What do abortion rights have to do with women’s equality? Why even talk about abortion in the first place?

Why we need to talk about abortion.

I know you may be wondering why I would even want to discuss abortion when it appears as though most people have made up their minds on this debate, and there’s no turning back for them. However, this notion is wrong. Change is possible. Opinions and moral convictions are not stable. Remember the good old days when society condemned premarital sex and divorce?

Our views on abortion are evolving rapidly, just like the topics that people have debated over in the past, such as child labour, the voting rights of women, and slavery. All of these issues are now universally agreed upon. It’s vital that we discuss abortion so that awareness can be brought about.

A woman is a person. So…?

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Margaret Sanger

To begin, I give you the basic premise that women are indeed persons, and therefore deserve equal rights, respect and dignity as do all other persons. There is no longer a question about the person-hood of women. Although the reality of equality has not completely been attained, we can agree that women are people. Therefore, I believe that women should have the ability to make decisions about what is and isn’t good for themselves. It is without a doubt that women have the right to autonomy and one cannot have true autonomy if they do not have it over their own physical bodies.

What is in debate here is at what point does person-hood begin? Some say it starts at conception, others when the zygote becomes a fetus and some say it begins when the baby is born. It’s a question which is disputed by many.

What is person-hood anyway? And how does one define it?

When deciding if one is a person or not, there are a few key questions to ask.

1. Can the entity act in the world and respond to its environment?

2. Is the entity aware of its own existence?

3. Does the entity possess rights and duties?

4. If it can claim the right to live, does it live independently?

I will now examine these questions and provide answers as to whether or not a prenatal organism should be considered a person.

      1. A fetus cannot act in the world nor respond to the environment except in response to it’s provider’s body, its mother.
      2. A fetus and even newborn babies do not yet have awareness of their own state, emotions or motivations. It is not self aware and therefore cannot acknowledge it’s own existence. We also cannot disregard the state in which the fetus exists within it’s mother’s womb; the fetus is asleep, surrounded by darkness and connected to a placenta which provides the nutrients and blood necessary for growth. The fetus is actually in a sedated state due to the low oxygen pressure and substances provided by the placenta which cause sleep; such as steroidal anesthetics.
      3. A fetus cannot possess rights or duties unless it is sentient and self-aware.
      4. Let’s say that the fetus should have a right to life. If this is true, it should also be living independently. A fetus cannot do this because it can only live while being attached to and being nourished by it’s mother. It requires it’s mother’s life to live.

Based on the answers to the questions listed above, a fetus does not have true person-hood.

What a fetus looks like at 12 weeks, contrary to some misinformed beliefs of pro-life advocates:

When abortion is illegal, women are not safe.

Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” Prof. Mahmoud Fathalla,MD, PhD

Whenever a country has tried to outlaw abortion, it has only lead to dangerous consequences for women. Many women have died or have been injured when abortion was illegal due to unsafe practices. This is why people have fought so hard to have the right to choose. Why would we go back in time knowing that it will cause harm towards all women?

If we seriously honor and respect the individual rights of people, then we cannot possibly return to the horrifying idea of laws that will both force women to bear children against their will and force women into getting dangerous abortions.

Not all women who get pregnant can have safe pregnancies.

Many women who suffer with heart disease, sickle-cell anemia, kidney disease, severe diabetes and other illnesses require that they have an abortion because of the potential life-threatening consequences a pregnancy or childbirth could have on them and/or the fetus.

An accidental pregnancy or a rape can destroy a woman’s life if she does not have access to abortion.

It is a horrendous idea that some people are trying to push, that even if a woman is raped she should not have an abortion. It could bring her economic, emotional and personal freedom to an absolute halt. Even a consensual but accidental pregnancy could have a devastating effect on a woman’s life. Forcing someone to have a child they did not want takes away all of her personal choice.

Therefore, I believe it is vital that women have the right to choose what happens to their own body and that abortion be legal. It is vital for their safety, health, and for their freedom and autonomy as an individual human being.

Free[SAY]‘s 1st Food Drive, Winter 2012: A Success!

Free[SAY]‘s very own food drive in the winter semester of 2012 was an outstanding success! We surpassed both of our goals, reaching a total of 543 lbs of food and $280.

A wholehearted thanks to all of our supporters for volunteering your time, donations or money. Together we are helping those in need and changing social consciousness. 

From left: Robert, Chris and Kevin at our table in Vari Hall Link.

Robert and D’Arcy outside Free[SAY]‘s office with our awesome collection of food.

 Great job everyone!

The God Helmet: Your Brain On Religion

What if we could recreate a religious experience by simply flipping a switch in the brain? What if we could produce the feeling that someone or something is watching over us on demand? According to neuroscientific research conducted with The God Helmet, this may be possible.

The God Helmet, invented by Stanley Koren and used primarily by Dr. Michael Persinger, has forced us to reconsider the neurological basis of religion in the brain. The headgear is controversial because when electromagnetic waves are sent through a subject’s temporal lobe, it can create the feeling of a religious experience, or a sense of belonging. “We basically imitate what happens within the brain itself during a mystical experience,” says Dr. Persinger.

In this engaging lecture with guest speakers Trevor Carniello and Dr. Michael Persinger, learn about how The God Helmet works and discover the origin of religious experiences in the brain. Join us in this exclusive opportunity to be able to ask Dr. Persinger questions and find answers to your curiousities about God, the brain and religion.
The lecture takes place on Friday, March 9th at York University.This event is brought to you by Free[SAY]: Freethinkers, Skeptics and Atheists at York in collaboration with the Center For Inquiry.

When: Friday, March 9th 2012 7:00pm

Where: York University, Accolade West Room 109

Tickets: http://www.cficanada.ca/ontario/events/the_god_helmet/

How Much: $5 York Students

$7 General Admission

Tickets will also be available at the door

To encourage and promote involvement in both Free[SAY] and the Centre For Inquiry we’re offering FREE ADMISSION to “Faithless: Better without God”  (details here:http://www.cficanada.ca/ontario/events/how_dan_barker_lost_his_faith_in_faith) AND “The God Helmet: Your Brain On Religion” with the purchase of a Student Membership for one year to the Centre for Inquiry.

For more information about the event and to purchase tickets please visit: http://www.cficanada.ca/ontario/events/the_god_helmet/


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