Canada Has Church/State Issues, Too! May 10, 2010

Canada Has Church/State Issues, Too!

Members of Canada’s Parliament are sponsoring a National Prayer Breakfast this week. There’s a dinner tonight and a breakfast tomorrow.

The purpose of the National Prayer Breakfast is to invite leaders to meet in the spirit of Jesus Christ in order to pray together.

The purpose of the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast is to call men and women to God, and then to entrust them with the application of what it means to live out God’s grace as leaders. The Prayer Breakfast is not a lobby group, which seeks to influence policy even when legislation before Parliament involves very controversial issues. It is not the aim of the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast Group to influence the thinking of others towards any particular political viewpoint, but instead there is a trust in the workings of God, that as we love and pray for one another, the Holy Spirit will work in our lives to help us grow as women and men who love mercy, seek justice and humbly walk with God.

Wow… Even American politicians know you’re supposed to stress the word “God” and not talk about “Jesus” when you do these sorts of things…

The Humanist Association of Ottawa is going to attend the festivities to get a first-hand account of exactly what’s going on:

On Tuesday, May 11, politicians, journalists and supreme court justices are invited by the office of MP David Anderson to join with Christian leaders from across Canada at the National Prayer Breakfast. The goal is to acknowledge the deep role of god at the heart of government decision making.

We think not. And we think an event at which — through formal seminars and informal discussion — the role of religion in a secular society is to be front and centre, that some organization representing the interests of secular society, must be present.

That body is the Canadian Secular Alliance (, and we are those representatives.

You can follow the goings-on at the group’s Twitter feed for the event.

They also have a live coverage webpage set up to highlight what they see and hear.

Here’s hoping they can get useful information. And that they can later use it to make a strong case for a secular government.

(Thanks to Tony for the event!)

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  • Oh, but don’t you see? It’s just in the spirit of Jesus Christ, not in his name! That’s totally different.

  • Jeremy

    The National Prayer Breakfast is funded by a charitable organization (Canadian Fellowship Foundation), not the taxpayers. It’s not an official government activity. In a similar vein there is a weekly bible study on Parliament Hill over the lunch hour that various MPs attend, including David Anderson. I went to one, once (back in my Christian days).

    I don’t really see much of a church/state separation problem with it, to be honest. MPs do far worse than gather once a year to pray over cold scrambled eggs.

  • Samiimas

    Um, does Canada actually have separation of church and state? Don’t Britain and some it’s old colonies have an official church, one they just don’t take very seriously?

  • Unfortunately we’re not a secular country. In fact we ARE based upon christian principles. As Smiimas said though, we just don’t take it (christianity) very seriously.
    We don’t prey pray in public schools either.

  • Jeremy

    Canada does not have an official government-funded church like Britain does, but we have a government-funded Catholic school system promised in our constitution. It was something to appease the French population at the time. It’s a sore spot among many Canadians, basically anyone who isn’t Catholic.

  • Nakor

    Canada does not have an official church, but at the same time has nothing in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically mandating the separation of church and state. Section 29 of the Charter protects the rights of religious schools that exist in laws outside the Charter from being affected by other sections of the Charter. (“Nothing in this Charter abrogates or derogates from any rights or privileges guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada in respect of denominational, separate or dissentient schools.”) Generally, it’s relatively secular up here, but it’s in no way guaranteed by law.

    The real problem people have with the Charter is Section 33, the “notwithstanding clause,” which allows provincial or federal legislature to override parts of the Charter. It allows legislation to specify that a particular act will operate notwithstanding the rights described in sections 2 and 7-15 for a period of up to 5 years. Those sections that can be overridden temporarily by an act of parliament or the legislature are (in short):

    2: Fundamental freedoms (freedom of religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association).
    7: Right to life, liberty and the security of person.
    8: Protection from unreasonable search or seizure.
    9: Right to not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
    10: Right to an explanation for arrest, right to counsel and the right to be shown validity of detention by habeas corpus or be released.
    11: Various further criminal rights, including quick trial, right to remain silent, and the right not to be found guilty if the act in question occurred when it was not illegal.
    12: Protection from cruel and unusual treatment and punishment
    13: Right to not self-incriminate
    14: Right to an interpreter in legal proceedings
    15: All individuals are equal under the law; protection from discrimination

    So if you want to fight something in the Canadian charter, the bit that allows a particular act to violate basic human rights would be the best place to start. :

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

  • It’s funny. Atheism isn’t as controversial in Canada as it is in the US – but then again, it’s more because it’s just not talked about.

    I think it has to do with the Canadian attitude of politeness. Sort of a “Oh, um, well, that’s nice. You do your thing, I suppose.” kind of attitude. It’s hard to describe it in a way that makes sense, as I’m a born and bred Canadian myself.

    Not that I agree with this. I was rather pissed when I found out about the breakfast.

  • Peregrine

    I hate to break it to you, but we’re actually kind of stuck with this religious stuff. The opening preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is:

    Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

    Yeah. That’s our Parliamentary democracy. We got it from England. Blame them. We don’t have that fancy “Establishment clause” that you guys have. Parliament and government may be better at leaning towards secularism in its day to day operations, but God and the Queen are still very much ingrained into our legaleeze.

  • @jeremy . The funny thing about that is that now Québec (the “french”) is the least religious of all the provinces.

    I’m pretty confident it will be the first province to enact secular laws and enforce them in spite of whatever the federal government would say.

    It’s coming.

  • Aside from our current looney-toon Prime Minister, separation of church and state has been fairly effective, outside the provinces that choose to support the Catholic schools. Even though they are funded, they have to teach real science and sex-ed and they can’t refuse students (only teachers). Atheism is definitely not controversial up here. One’s religion plays no role and one’s ability to get elected, except for maybe helping the Conservatives. We are very much live and let live up here. But there are strong christian lobby groups that are slowly and silently infiltrating politics, mostly because of Harper. I am hopeful for a fall election and the ability to oust him. Not only does his right wing religious propensity scare me, but he operates this government with an iron fist and under the assumption that Canadians are stupid. Unfortunately, many people are ignorant so he is getting away with a lot of insanity.

  • Take a gander at this. There is a mayoral race underway in Toronto and apparently all 4 candidates see a bigger role for religion:–city-hall-has-left-god-rossi-declares?bn=1#article

    Many of the comments are encouraging. Toronto isn’t losing it’s shit afterall…

  • AxeGrrl

    Not Guilty, I share your feelings for Harper the hope that he will be booted out soon.

    Secondly, here’s a great little documentary called “Without God: A Humanist’s Personal Story” hosted by Dr. Robert Buckman:

    Without God: A Humanist’s Personal Story

    I’m mentioning it because at one point in it, former MP Svend Robinson talks about the inclusion of ‘God’ in the charter. I had no idea about it until I saw this docu.

  • Jeremy

    @ricky: It’s true that Quebec is probably the most secular of the provinces when it comes to enacting laws, but they’d still fight if you tried to remove the catholic school boards. They’d see it as an attack on quebecois culture. Church in Quebec is much more of a cultural identity thing.

  • Richard P.

    Actually we have no separation issues at all. We do not have separation of church and state. We have just had enough sense not to mix the two. (As Pierre Trudeau once pointed out when he famously defended the decriminalization of homosexual acts segment of the bill by telling reporters that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”, adding that “what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code”.(copied from wiki))

    However, it has become abundantly clear that the current prime minister seems to be blurring the lines. Canadians are starting to notice this and an end to his career is not to far away. Nothing we hate more that bat fuck religious nuts. Usually religion is not any kind of an issue in our politics, which means the nutty one sneak in on occasion.

  • Peregrine

    I wish I could share your optimism that Harper’s days in the PMO could end, as early as fall. But the sad news is that Iggy has slipped in the polls in recent weeks, in spite of the controversy with Helena Guergis, Rahim Jaffer, and Devinder Shory.

    Whenever the Conservatives start slipping in the polls, the murmurs of elections start again, and then the polls take a sudden reversal. Unless the numbers start shaking considerably, we’re stuck with this guy until at least 2012.

  • Mylegacy

    Every religious brain dead moron in Canada is a Tory. Our religious right OWNS many of the Conservatives members lock stock and barrel – they completely control way too many Tory riding associations.

    These people love Reagan’s “Trickle down, Government is the enemy” mantra – they only want to be in Government to starve it and discredit it. We CAN’T let them – we have to take back Canada.

  • Canadiannalberta

    This post does not surprise me. Alberta is very Christian – I assumed it was the same way with the rest of Canada. For example, in our public schools, we have the lords prayer before each day in school. Or at least we did in the schools I went to, and I admit I’ve been out of school for five years now. Maybe they changed?

  • Chal

    Never had any prayer in school in New Brunswick. (Graduated in ’06)

  • Peregrine

    Graduated in ’96 in New Brunswick. Distinctly remember morning prayers throughout elementary school. Not necessarily every morning, but quite frequently. Glad to hear that’s different in later years.

    And every classroom had a picture of Jesus or Mary at the front of the room.

    Also, catechism. The Protestant kids would go home for lunch, but we would have to stay an extra 20 minutes for catechism. Fuck, I hated catechism.

  • Richard P.

    My daughter goes to school in Edmonton, when I asked her if they prayed she said no. However, that may just be she can’t show up on time for anything. The schools I went to in Saskatchewan had no prayer either. That was way up north and I think the teachers were to drunk most of the time to remember it.

    If iggy didn’t screw up by trying to play American politics, he would probably be in the chair right now. From dion to iggy we really need to get a leader that isn’t stupid.

  • Trace

    I lived in Alberta for a number of years…quite conservative and religious. Ontario, less so.

  • “Atheism is definitely not controversial up here.” I suppose that depends on where you’re from, because in the small town where I’m from you might as well have been a leper if you admitted you were an atheist. You were Catholic or Protestant. Those were the choices. Say you didn’t believe in God and all of a sudden you were a satanist. Luckily at least religion was kept out of the schools I attended – mostly. There was the graduation baccalaureate at the Catholic church that we attended in our graduation gowns, but mostly it was separate.

  • Rick

    Atheism is more accepted in multi-cultural settings. I had one Hindu, one RC, three Buddhists and one atheist work for me at a manufacturing plant in Mississauga. I was openly atheist as were 3 others (out of an office staff of about 20). Nobody batted an eye.

  • Actually the God language got stuffed into the Charter at the last minute in 1982, after pressure from the religious lobby. Anyways, the Canadian National Prayer Breakfast is at least not connected to a National Day of Prayer enacted by the legislature, as the American one is. As far as I can tell at the moment (which includes a brief report from my wife, who was at the dinner tonight), there’s no clear *formal* church-state entanglement going on with this event. But yeah, Harper is a theo-con and I wish the Libs had a credible alternative.

  • Nakor

    ^ That. The last line. I wish the libs had a decent leader, but there’s no way I want Ignatieff in parliament. If there were an election now I’d probably (futilely for my electoral district) vote NDP.

  • All I know is whether they’re theists or non-theists, Canucks are a helluva lot more polite than my fellow Michiganders. Never met a Canadian I didn’t like…except for the guy who gave me directions to the Rock Glen Nature Conservatory when I got lost. Told me to go 500 meters past some trees and turn left at the cow.
    What the hell is a meter?! What the f*ck is a cow?!

  • AxeGrrl

    Nakor wrote:

    I wish the libs had a decent leader..

    I think that’s how a LOT of us feel, Nakor. Honestly, I’d probably vote for Ignatieff (even though I don’t like him either) just to get ‘king’ Harper out of there. But I’m in a riding with an NDP MP I’m happy with (and who will get re-elected)

    I put together a short little video of the Anti-Prorogation rally on Parliament Hill in January (with a little help from Bif Naked!) ~ it felt great to see soooooo many people caring enough about the issue to stick it out for 2-3 hours in sub-zero weather!:

    Anti-Prorogation rally at Parliament Hill – January 2010

  • The libs are just as conservative as the conservatives imho. Harper and his wife are friends of friends and he is a nice, stand up guy. I think he’s just painted badly in the media.

    We really have to try to choose between the lesser of two evils when we vote in Canada. Not easy and with the effing BQ to muck up the works it just makes it harder to get anything decent done. (NDP would be a lesser of two evils choice but realistically we’ve got the liberals and the conservatives to choose from). 🙁

  • Paul Zimmerle

    I always wondered how they worked.

    Are they meeting under the auspices of his literal spirit? Are they meeting in the spirit of his example (and so will we see a pair of traitors outed and a leader slain on a cross?)

  • AxeGrrl

    Sarah wrote:

    Harper and his wife are friends of friends and he is a nice, stand up guy. I think he’s just painted badly in the media.

    Sarah, my and ‘our’ disgust and loathing for Stephen Harper has absolutely NOTHING to do with him personally. I’m sure he’s a ‘nice’ guy, but that doesn’t change the negative/destructive things he’s perpetrated in his official duties as prime minister.

    And no, it’s not that he’s just been ‘painted badly in the media’. If anything, it’s just the opposite ~ the media are finally starting to view him more critically. Part of his election platform included ‘more transparency’ and man oh man has he done a complete 180 on THAT score! The Harper gov’t is more secretive than any other in recent memory.

    Again, none of the very legitimate criticisms of Harper’s gov’t have anything to do with him personally.

    When I say ‘i hate him and he’s has to go’, I’m talking about his performance as a publicly-elected official 🙂

  • Humanist Dave “B”

    Atheists should have better ways of spending their time and money and effort than attending $50 prayer breakfasts.
    I assume that the $50 for the prayer breakfast goes to support the prayer breakfast cause…
    You cannot stop people from doing what they want to do, even if that is praying in public. That is what freedom is all about…

    Humanist Dave “B”

  • Kaylya

    The prayer breakfast thing is a privately funded event to which MPs and others are invited, which appears to sometimes use space on Parliament Hill but the main event is at a hotel nearby. That’s way different from it being an officially endorsed event.

    Of course there are lots of places where elected officials start off with an official prayer.


    The Quebec government eliminated the Catholic School boards over 10 years ago (actually, I think they had explicitly Catholic and Protestant boards), and while they left in “religious or moral” education for a while they’ve since gotten rid of the religious stuff entirely. Or almost entirely, they now have something called “Ethics and Religious Culture” in which, under the religious culture part:

    Your child will:
    * learn about the important place of Catholicism and Protestantism in Québec’s religious heritage
    * discover the contributions of Judaism and Native spiritualities of this religious heritage
    * learn about elements of other religious traditions more recently found in Québec society

  • Peregrine

    @Sarah I understand where you’re coming from. Elsie Wayne has been a long time friend of my family. I even voted for her on that basis, before the whole “shut up about it” episode. I’ll never make that mistake again, if I can avoid it.

    I was young. I’m sorry.

    Just because someone is nice in person, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to agree with their politics, or their performance in office. I’m sure Stephen Harper is a nice guy. I wouldn’t mind having lunch with him some time, if the opportunity presented itself. But I still think it’ll be a sad day for Canada if he ever gets a majority, and I won’t shed any tears the day he’s sent packing.

  • I graduated from highschool in 2003 and there were no prayers, just the national anthem every morning. But that was Brampton, On – about as multi-cultural as you can get.

    It’s unfortunate that the Libs keeps picking unpopular leaders. I have nothing against Iggy, but many people do, which is clearly a problem. At this stage, I’d happily vote for the Bloc, anything to keep Harper out. Harper is really showing how stupid many Canadians are because in their eyes, he can do no wrong. But as he gets bolder, he is going to take bigger risks and sooner than later, he will fall hard. Fingers crossed.

    I bet all the Americans are a little glad to know we’ve got political problems up here too!

  • Jude

    Whatever else Harper has done, I can never forgive him for turning his back on Omar Khadr. I wish I could share the optimism of those who are saying that he’s on his way out; only last week I read a CBC article saying that the tories had gone up in the polls (just who the Udûn are these people who are voting for him???).

    Actually, I don’t have any problem with this breakfast – it looks like a private event, so why should we object to what they do in their spare time?

    @The Godless Monster: It’s a fairly large domesticated ungulant that used to make regular unscheduled appearances in The Far Side; unless you’re a vegan, you’ve probably had indirect dealings with them at one time or the other 😀

  • Mikey

    Wow… Even American politicians know you’re supposed to stress the word “God” and not talk about “Jesus” when you do these sorts of things…

    Hmmm…interesting how even mentioning the name of Christ offends. Have you considered why?

  • Humanist Dave “B”

    Atheists should have better things to do than go to Prayer Breakfasts at $50 a person and I assume that the $50 goes to support the Prayer breakfast cause. You cannot stop people from doing what they want to do even if it is praying in public, that is what freedom is all about.
    I get a reaction of surprise and disbelief when I tell people that the president of the HAO is going to a Prayer Breakfast..

    Humanist Dave “B”

  • Canuck in Minnesota

    I’m a Canadian (born and raised in Edmonton, which to my mind was always about as multi-cultural and liberal as you could get) and have been living in Minnesota for the past ten years. We’ve been blown away by the religiosity here (and we’re about as far from the Bible Belt as you can get). The difference to us seems to be the appetite and tolerance and general kowtowing for religious talk… Any other Canadians remember the media backlash and ridicule Stockwell Day (for US readers, this man was running for leadership of the Reform Party, a conservative off-shoot of the Conservative Party) received when he said he believed in the biblical creation of the world 6000 years ago? Now contrast that to the US election of 08 when Senators (I think?) were quizzed as to their beliefs in evolution…and of course, every candidate had to be vetted as to their religious qualifications. I don’t think most Canadians and most Canadian media would have the stomach for that…

  • plutosdad

    Hmmm…interesting how even mentioning the name of Christ offends. Have you considered why?

    It isn’t offensive, what is offensive is the fact that politicians have no problem blatantly favoring one religion over another. In their personal lives it is no problem, but when they act as representatives then they are sending the message that they only really represent the certain % that is their religion, everyone else doesn’t matter.

    That kind of idiocy led to untold violence in Europe, and what we wish to no longer repeat.

    Evangelical Christians should be careful what they wish for. Their brand of christianity and morals won’t be what’s enforced.

  • Nakor

    @Mikey: The point is that “God” can still seem religiously neutral (most religions have a god, and the big ones in North America are all monotheistic), while “Jesus” or “Christ” are clearly pro-Christian, and therefore exclude Judaism and Islam (and every other religion).

  • Freddy

    We hosers may be secular in a broader sense but we’re not any more enlightened for it. Many up here take the uneducated, weak-kneed attitude that a person of religion should be respected and treated as someone virtuous without having to earn that respect like the rest of us do. It’s so insulting.

    If it comes down to picking battles, I’m far more upset that we still have an official connection with the British monarchy than whether some Jeebus fans pray over some eggs.

  • AxeGrrl and Peregrine: I see where you’re coming from. It’s hard to separate the man from the PM. I do honestly think he means well but isn’t coping as well as he should be. I was mad at the Cons over denying funding for abortions abroad and was going to vote lib (may FSM have pity on my soul) because of it. Then I found out the Libs were in favour of the ban so I’ve shifted back. And they wonder why voters are “apathetic” we don’t want to carry the guilt of voting for monsters!

  • My main beef with Stephen Harper is all the crap that was in the forefront of his party back when they were the Canadian Alliance. Sure, they had to tone it down a bit in order to orchestrate their takeover merger with the Conservative Party, but you know that it’s just simmering there in the background. Give them a majority and suddenly they’ll be trying to bash down gay rights and women’s rights as fast as they can.

    The last election showed that the other parties are going to have to run those stupid attack ads if they hope to replace the Conservatives.

  • AxeGrrl

    CBC’s ‘The National’ had a piece on tonight about evangelical Christians in Canada. You can view it here (it starts at 29:20 or so into the hour):

    CBC: The National – Canada’s Evangelical Christians

    (the above link changes daily, so it might not be available there tomorrow at this time)

    The discussion/comments about the segment can be viewed here:

    Comments: Is the Christian right changing Canada?

    As of right now, I’m finding the voting on the comments to be extremely troubling 🙁

  • Several people have commented that the Canadian National Prayer Breakfast is funded by a charitable organization (Canadian Fellowship Foundation*), not the taxpayers.

    However, there appears to be a significant amount of time put in by MPs and their staff on this event. So there is public money being used in support of it. And while Canada does not have official church/state separation, we do have laws against religious discrimination, so insofar as this event is publicly funded, it should be open to people of all faiths or of none. And that is why I considered it important for me, as president of the Humanist Association of Ottawa, to attend along with representatives of CFI-Canada and the Canadian Secular Alliance.

    * There are also concerns about if/how the Canadian Fellowship Foundation is linked to the US based Fellowship Foundation, aka “The Family”.

  • Killer Bee


    Chocolate defines my identity, too.

    Either that or you must really hate dogs.

  • ckitching

    I think Stephen Harper’s party is far scarier than Harper himself. I think Harper’s a politician through and through (whether this is good or not is up to you), and would not do anything he thought could jeopardize his political career. He may believe some very goofy things, but I’m pretty sure he knows enough not to let it control his policy. On the other hand, if you look at his cabinet, many of those people clearly do not have the same political sense. Many of them seem to be itching to institute policies that would be more in line with the fringe CHP (Christian Heritage Party) than the Conservative party.

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