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Religious intolerance in Canada

2008:
Part 1: Conflict over Tarot cards in Toronto, ON

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Overview:

Organizers of the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant for 2008 invited Stephanie Conover, 23, (Miss Canada Plus 2007) to be one of their judges.In an unusual show of religious bigotry, they later decided that she was unfit to serve as a judge because of her personal interests and hobbies. Director of the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant notes that hers is a private organization, receives no government funds, and thus can discriminate on any grounds that they wish. Public reaction to their decision was intensely negative.

Ms Conover is the first known beauty queen who is openly Neopagan .

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Background:

Stephanie Conover was crowned Miss Canada Plus 2007. The Miss Canada Plus Pageant (MCCP) celebrates "women with real curves" and is held annually in Toronto ON for "plus sized" women. It is believed to be the first and only pageant of its kind, and is intended:

"to inspire plus-size women to recognize their external and internal beauty, by encouraging wellness and empowerment through a sense of recognition, inclusion and acceptance in the world of fashion and beauty." 1

Ms. Conover agreed to a request from the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant to be a judge on 2008-FEB-02. On JAN-21, they asked her for her biography. She said:

"I told them everything I do, how I'm an entertainer and a singer and a dancer. I talked about my charity work and I said I also have hobbies, including songwriting, knitting, painting, yoga, Reiki and tarot cards." 2

Her hobbies include:

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Yoga, that was:

"... developed in ancient India to unify body and mind with universal spirit, thereby encouraging physical and mental well-being. Most commonly, it involves a series of stretching postures (called asanas), breathing exercises, and meditative practices." 3

Many practitioners believe that it increases bodily flexibility, improves their muscle tone, and reduces the effects of stress. 4


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Reiki: According to The International Center for Reiki Training:

"Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by 'laying on hands' and is based on the idea that an unseen 'life force energy' flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one's 'life force energy' is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress. ... If it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy." 4


bulletTarot cards are a set of 78 playing cards that contain pictures and symbols. They are used by fortunetellers and others in an attempt to predict the future.

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Karen Murray, the pageant director of Miss Toronto Tourism is reported as saying:

"We just got her bio a week ago and we don't agree with it. We want someone down to earth, not someone into the dark side or the occult."

Ironically, Ms. Conover is a follower of Wicca, the largest of many Earth-centered Neopagan religions. So, she is probably more "down to earth" in the sense of being closer to nature than are most Canadians. Ms. Murray was apparently unaware of Conover's religious affiliation at the time.

According to the Toronto Star, on JAN-24, Murray and another official wrote to the Miss Canada Plus group stating:

"We need a judge who has an upright reputation and we would be proud to introduce to the audience ... Our board of directors has eliminated her as a judge as tarot card reading and reiki are the occult and is [sic] not acceptable by God, Jews, Muslims or Christians. Tarot card reading is witchcraft and is used by witches, spiritists and mediums to consult the dark world."

The letter continued with a couple of quotations from the Bible including:

Leviticus 19:31 "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God. (King James Version).

The letter concluded:

"We hope that Stephanie Conover will turn from these belief systems and will repent from her practice of them."

Many evangelicals and other conservative Protestants believe that Tarot card players are occultists who contact demons who are under the control of Satan. The web site GotQuestions.org states:

"The word 'familiar' is from the Latin familiaris, meaning a 'household servant,' and is intended to express the idea that sorcerers had spirits as their servants ready to obey their commands. Those attempting to contact the dead, even to this day, usually have some sort of spirit guide who communicates with them. These are familiar spirits."

"Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:9-14 refer to 'mediums and familiar spirits' and forbids being involved in them, as a they are an abomination to the Lord. The medium was one who acted as a 'go-between' to supposedly contact or communicate with the dead, but in reality they were contacting demons who convinced the mediums that they were 'familiar' and could be trusted and believed. The practices associated with mediums and familiar spirits were banned in Israel, and the punishment for practicing such things was death."

"To this day, familiar spirits (demons) are under the control of their master, Satan. They influence people to spread lies and deceit in order to thwart the kingdom of God." 5

Polling data from the U.S. shows a wide gap among Christians concerning the existence of Satan:

  • 75% of Roman Catholics reject Satan as a living being';

  • 55% of Protestants do as well. 6

  • Among the general public, those who regard Satan as a mythical being outnumber those who believe he is a living entity by about a 2:1 ratio.

  • Even more Americans are believed reject the concept of demonic beings who assist Satan.

  • Essentially all mental health professionals reject their existence and consider them to be a leftover from a pre-scientific era.

These values are believed to be even higher in Canada because of the larger percentage of Roman Catholics, secularists, Agnostics, Atheists, etc. in the country.

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Ms. Conover's reaction to the rejection:

Ms. Conover said that she was stunned by the letter. The Toronto Star newspaper reported:

" 'I was fuming. They said tarot cards are the occult and that I use them to commune with dark forces,' which she insisted is not the case. 'They're completely benign. I use them for healing, to give guidance. You can buy tarot cards at Chapters [Canada's largest bookstore] or the CNE' [Canadian National Exhibition]."

"She also said reiki is a well-known Japanese healing system that allows people to transfer positive energy to a sick person. 'It definitely goes against convention, sure, but anything that helps avoid use of prescription drugs is a bonus, I think'."

"Conover said she practices Wicca, which to some means she's a witch. But she said [that] the Miss Toronto Tourism people didn't know that and that they based their rejection of her on tarot cards and reiki." 2

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This topic continues in the following essay:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Miss Canada Plus Pageant," has its home page at: http://www.mcpp.ca
  2. Jim Byers, "Beauty queen not fit to be judge: Pageant," The Toronto Star, 2008-JAN-28, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  3. "Glossary of complementary medicine terms," Connecting with Healers, at: http://www.connectingwithhealers.com/
  4. "What is Reiki?,"The International Center for Reiki Training, 2014, at: http://www.reiki.org/
  5. "What are familiar spirits," GodQuestions.org, at: http://www.gotquestions.org/
  6. "Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View," Barna Group, 2002-OCT-08, at: http://www.barna.org/

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Copyright 2008 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2008-FEB-01
Latest update: 2014-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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