BC Humanists: Prayer Has No Place in the Legislative Assembly September 5, 2019

BC Humanists: Prayer Has No Place in the Legislative Assembly

Every day, just before the start of Question Period at the British Columbia Legislature, a different Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) stands to lead those present in a prayer taken from any faith they choose. It’s their version of a religious invocation.

The BC Humanist Association (BCHA) says it’s time for this practice to stop.

The organization completed a study of the content of the Legislature’s prayers, to be released in the coming days, in which they found that the majority of these prayers were sectarian in nature, and a majority of those were identifiably Christian. Given that 69% of British Columbians say they do not practice any faith or religion, the daily prayer amounts to a practice that fails to represent the majority of British Columbians.

BCHA executive director Ian Bushfield said as much in a recent press release:

The Supreme Court of Canada was clear that our governments have a ‘duty of religious neutrality’. Giving prayers a prominent space at the start of every day in the legislature marginalizes British Columbians who don’t believe in a god and those who don’t think it’s appropriate for MLAs to use their platform to proselytize their private beliefs.

Bushfield is referring to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, which found that the city of Saguenay violated citizens’ rights when they began council sessions with prayer.

Acting Clerk of the Legislature Kate Ryan-Lloyd has reviewed the standard prayers offered to MLAs for use in the daily ceremony, and appears to agree that change is necessary. She has reached out to the BCHA as well as the Canadian Multifaith Coalition for help in finding additional prayers to include, representing a broader range of sectarian religions as well as secular humanist beliefs.

It’s a start. But BCHA Campaigns Manager Ranil Prasad says it’s a mistake to try to reform the tradition instead of scrapping it completely:

While undoubtedly well-meaning, adding more sectarian options is arguably more of a misguided step backward. We ultimately want to see prayers removed from the standing orders altogether. Government prayers are not inclusive of the overwhelming majority of British Columbians who are not religious, they violate the principle of separation of church and state, and frankly, they are a waste of both taxpayer money and time in the chamber.

In the absence of a formal daily prayer in the Legislature, religious MLAs are free to privately perform whatever prayers and rituals they deem necessary on their own time. But a public prayer ritual has no place in the day-to-day workings of a neutral secular government.

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