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The Freethought Association of Canada (FAC) began as the Toronto Secular Alliance (TSA), a citywide secularist organization which originated as a student organization based at the University of Toronto. Its purpose is to “promote secularism and related topics”, such as freethought and skepticism, through educational events, social events, and activism.
The Toronto Secular Alliance (TSA) has its origins as a student group founded at the University of Toronto (UofT) St. George Campus.
The initial catalyst for the formation of the TSA was the decision by UofT to create a "multi-faith" centre. The project was intended to serve as a means of promoting interaction between the various religious groups on campus and to provide prayer space for religious students; the latter being particularly a concern for Muslims who are to pray five times a day.
The TSA advanced the position that the university should instead choose to maintain itself as a 'public' institution that does not endorse or fund any particular ideologies that may happen to occur within its student population. The proposed cost of the centre is $3,389,400 according to UofT assessments.
Estimates have suggested that about 40% of the student population did not belong to any faith and hence the TSA believed that it was unethical to use the tuition of non-religious students to promote religious ideologies on campus. The TSA became the only group on campus to speak out against the faith centre project in campus newspapers, which resulted in much controversy regarding the group.
Growth of the Secular Alliance
The creation of the TSA was too late to have been able to halt the development of the multi-faith centre at the university. However, other issues took place on the campus political landscape.
In 2006 the attempts to create Sharia law courts in Ontario sparked controversy over fears in the public that Canadian citizens would be subject to regulations similar to those seen in countries such as Iran or Pakistan. The Toronto Secular Alliance again took the position of 'one law for all Canadians', and in contrast to other anti-Sharia law groups, insisted that the communal courts created previously for other religions should also be disbanded.
Within the Muslim community itself there was much controversy, with more liberal Muslim leaders, such as Tarek Fatah,Hasan Mahmud, Munir Pervaiz, and others arguing against the implementation of Sharia law. The TSA met with some success in bringing these issues to the campus community and gaining support for its position.
As a result of public opinion, the provincial legislature rejected the creation of Sharia courts, including all religious arbitration in the matter of family laws, in Ontario.
Know Radical Islam
February 6-10, 2006 marked a series of events, hosted by the UofT chapter of the secular Zionist group Betar Tagar and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, entitled Know Radical Islam week. The aim of the events were to promote awareness of the threat posed by the numerous groups around the world that have appropriated Islam for a political agenda spread by means of terrorist actions. They specifically name Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The TSA made a decision, regard as highly controversial, to support the series of events as a co-sponsor. This was seen to many as a pro-Israeli/anti-Islamic bias of the TSA. However, the TSA has never taken a position in regard to favouring the state of Israel, but aims to remain a non-partisan organization, the membership of which holds varying opinions in regard to a diverse number of political issues.
"Is God all in your head?"
On March 10 2006, the TSA held its largest event at the MacLeod Auditorium, at UofT, entitled "Is God all in your head?". The event featured lectures by neuro-scientist Dr. Michael Persinger and oncologist Dr. Robert Buckman discussing a scientific approach to understanding (supposedly) divine experiences.
Dr. Persinger has been experimenting with "the god machine", which is capable of stimulating brains to create euphoric experiences. A raffle was conducted and the winner, a student at the university, was given the chance to visit Dr. Persinger's facility and experience the machine first hand.
He would later (on the opening night of Freethought Celebration Week 2006) describe his experiences with the machine. While the experiment was successful in providing euphoric and angry emotions, it did not create what he could describe as 'divine' or supernatural.