Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guess who came to the budget?

A source has informed me a very interesting detail about Tuesday's budget. No, not what was in it -- that's in the public record. Rather, who was there.

There's a group in Ottawa called the National House of Prayer, led by Ron and Fran Parker. Its stated purpose is to "establish and maintain an ongoing Christian presence in Canada's National Capital Region that will provide informed, focused and sustained prayer for Canada and its leaders." Rough translation -- make your own but many have accused it of trying to insert a very right wing agenda into the national debate.

The Parkers say they got their start when at the huge 9/11 memorial service on Parliament Hill where over 100,000 defiantly stood in support of the victims, no mention was made in the prayers offered about God or Jesus. Furthermore, it was claimed, army chaplains were restricted from using either of those words in their public addresses. The Parkers decided this was proof that Ottawa had become "Godless" and they decided to do something about it. Okay, fine. There's nothing wrong with having God-fearing people in Ottawa. Or with having prayer groups on the Hill -- which are attended by people from all of the parties.

But here's where it gets interesting: My source told me last night that senior members of NHOP were invited to the reading of the budget speech, and the after-party reception hosted by the government. How do we know this? Because someone called in last night to the not so infrequent telethons at Lethbridge, Alberta based The Miracle Channel and said as much on the air.

This is huge. What's so significant about that? Well ... no other religious group was invited, as far as my source has been able to find out. No representative from the Catholic bishops, no one from the United Church, none from the Anglican Church, no one from the major Jewish lobbies. No one -- except this one faith based group. Why did NHOP get special treatment and access that most churches might crave?

Now, keep in mind that this is supposed to be a registered charity. And, NHOP got a big part of its seed money from -- The Miracle Channel, an extremely right wing station in its political orientation. Some say it may have been in the range of up to $200,000. All perfectly legal. My source tells me that when the station's former manager, Dick Dewert, put up $25,000 of his own money (or was it the station's?) and challenged his followers to match it, they phoned it and did match it -- and then some.

What is NHOP's purpose? Is it simply to offer prayer? Or is it in the business of proselytizing? Even if it does just offer prayer, does that entitle it to registered charity status? I pray for a whole bunch of people all the time and you don't see me applying permission to do it tax free.

As my acquaintance pointed out to me, this isn't a case of a faith based group like the Salvation Army which makes a point of doing its charity work before attempting to offer religious services. That puts them entirely within bounds and is completely appropriate. This is a case of proselytizing before offering charity, putting the cart before the horse -- which is out of bounds. Or perhaps it goes beyond proselytizing and into politicking, and in the current environment it's often hard to tell the difference.

Groups such as the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace aren't allowed to be charities because they are clearly defined to be lobbyists. But under the cover of religion, we have a situation where profits are not only tax-sheltered but its leaders get preferred access to the most senior officials.

So the question is: How did NHOP manage to get such an invite to the budget speech, the hottest ticket in town that day? And was anything promised in return?

We've seen the Conservatives turn a blind eye to the trademark infringement when pro-life groups used the official Government of Canada service mark on their banners. Twice. How will they explain this one? And what does it mean for access for those of us who may want to lobby or petition Parliament but can't because the door has been shut to all but the most extreme elements of civil and religious society?

UPDATE (8:58 am EST, 1358 GMT): Fixed a link to CJIL. The link I did have is to a site critical of The Miracle Channel -- if you still want that one it's here.

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Anonymous said...

This is not huge...much ado about nothing.

Typical of the atheist left aka the Liberal Party of Canada.

penlan said...

Good catch Robert!

BlastFurnace said...

Anon: I'd be just as pissed if the government were the Libs or the NDP and they invited a left-wing religious lobby to the budget. We're supposed to have separation of church and state and mean it. And decades ago, St. Laurent said that here in Canada the Queen's role as "defender of the faith" is as defender of faith in general, not just Anglicanism.

Penlan, thank you. This one came actually as a complete surprise to me. When my source's number came up on my call display (I had been out for the evening) I knew it had to be something huge if that source wanted to talk to me directly and not via e-mail. When I called back the source gave me some additional info about the goings on in Ottawa with Team Harper and faith-based groups which would really raise people's ire; but until it can be confirmed I am going to hold off on it.

penlan said...


When/if you get that further information on Harper/Ottawa & faith-based groups I truly hope you will be able to share it. It's abominable what is going on behind closed doors. Too many closed doors, at that, on a multitude of issues.

Thanks for sharing what you just did.

Anonymous said...

Have you read this article?

Anonymous said...

It seems NHOP has no problem with bragging about their special privileges either:

Apparently they also like to provide their own political commentary and opinions of certain parties which has nothing to do with "prayer" or "charitable purposes".