In recognition of the many British Columbians who do not pray or practice a religion — a group which includes some legislators — the B.C. Legislature has decided to amend their standing orders, replacing daily prayer with “prayers and reflections.” That will allow members to offer a more inclusive moment of silence rather than a religious ritual designed to exclude those who don’t practice.
Earlier this year, the B.C. Humanist Association (BCHA) analyzed the invocations used for religious content, level of religious neutrality, length, and level of legislator participation. They concluded that the tradition favored belief over non-belief, and Christianity over other religions, and said that it should be removed or replaced by a moment of silent reflection or a First Nations land acknowledgement.
Government House Leader Mike Farnworth agrees with them, at least in part. He moved to modify the traditional practice to make room for other practices beyond prayer. The motion for “prayers and reflections” was passed unanimously by a legislature that seems more than willing to make space to include the non-believers in their midst.
Ian Bushfield, executive director for BCHA, considered the change a victory:
This is a step forward for an institution that is often incredibly reluctant to change. The unanimous support for this motion by MLAs shows that our research and the hundreds of e-mails our supporters sent had an effect. Humanists will continue to work toward a more secular and inclusive British Columbia.
BCHA board member Ranil Prasad participated in the research, and he too applauded the decision of the B.C. Legislature. However, he encouraged his fellow non-believers to keep pushing for a more secular government:
While [this is] an undoubtedly well-meaning amendment, 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.
That might be a harder sell; legislators who were happy to make space for both prayers and reflections during the Legislature’s daily routine might balk at the wholesale removal of prayer from the standing orders.
House Leader Mary Polak, affiliated with the B.C. Liberal Party, voted in favor of the motion because she saw it as a more accurate description of the current state of affairs, in which secular reflections were as welcome as faith-based prayers. But she would hesitate to remove prayer from the legislature entirely, calling the freedom to lead the assembly in prayer an important representation of “freedom of religion” in Canada’s “multicultural society.”
(Screenshot via YouTube)