Religion in Remembrance Day Ceremony challenged in Port Coquitlam

The Port Coquitlam Legion is ignoring a local resident’s concerns that its 2015 Remembrance Day ceremony was too Christian.

In a June letter to the Legion, Rhamona Vos-Browning said the 2015 ceremony “left me somewhat saddened.”  He described how despite the “small, diverse sea of people” in attendance, the ceremony “ended with a clearly sectarian closing prayer” and included a blessing “May the Lord bless and keep you.”

If the Legion insisted on maintaining the prayer, Vos-Browning offered to help the Legion find a Humanist officiant, such as one from the BC Humanist Association, to provide a secular invocation too.

Two months later, after following up his letter with several phone calls, Vos-Browning was told by the Legion that the agenda is set by the BC/Yukon Command. But when Vos-Browning spoke to the Command, he was told there are no rules to “force branches to use specific prayers or invocations” and that Command would inform the Port Coquitlam branch of this fact.

Despite this assurance, Vos-Browning has not been able to confirm whether the Port Coquitlam Legion plans to include a sectarian prayer again in its 2016 program.

Mr Rhamona Vos-Browning said:

My objective is not to embarrass the folk who organize our local event - they put in a lot of time and effort and they do a good job - however, Port Coquitlam is a diverse community and our public ceremonies need to reflect that.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association:

Men and women of all faith and none have fought and died for this country. Public ceremonies like those run by the Legion in communities across Canada should be sensitive to this, particularly as Canada has veterans of all faiths and none. Sectarian prayers dishonour the atheists and members of minority religions who have served the country.

In November 2015, Humanist veterans wrote to the Grandview Legion in Vancouver over concerns that its ceremony excluded non-Christians.

Click here for a PDF of this press release


Timeline of Rhamona Vos-Browning’s contact with the Port Coquitlam Legion

June 28

Letter sent to Irene Brown, Recording Secretary, Port Coquitlam Legion

August 18

Voicemail left for Ms Brown

August 26

Message left for Ms Brown with a person

August 29

Ms Brown returns the call, says that local office doesn’t have the authority to change the agenda. Refers to Joseph Waugh with the BC/Yukon Command

September 14

Voicemail left for Mr Waugh

September 15

Mr Waugh returns call, Vos-Browning outlines concern and gets his email address

September 26

Email sent to Mr Waugh, including copy of letter sent to Ms Brown

September 27

Reply from Mr Waugh

September 30

Voicemail left for Ms Brown

October 6

Voicemail left for Ms Brown

October 13

Voicemail left for Ms Brown


June 28, 2016 letter to Irene Brown, Port Coquitlam Legion

Dear Ms. Brown,

It is in gratitude and respect that I send you this note. Our family immigrated to Canada in 1958. My parents were in their late teens/early twenties during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and were forever marked by the experience. The region where my mother lived had been especially devastated during the occupation and they were starving when the Canadians came, with their chocolate and cigarettes. My parents idealised Canada, and taught their children to love it deeply.

 It is in this spirit that I attend Remembrance Day ceremonies every year. Since moving to Port Coquitlam in 1996 I have been impressed with the organisation evident at our local ceremony.

The 2015 ceremony left me somewhat saddened, however.  The ceremony was, as usual, well attended, with people surrounding the cenotaph well onto the streets. That small, diverse sea of people included children and young families, retirees and elderly from many ethnic, racial and religious origins. So it was a surprise when the ceremony ended with a clearly sectarian closing prayer. As a non-Christian, I felt that the benediction “May the Lord bless and keep you…” was unnecessarily exclusionary at such a public occasion.

In the spirit of recognizing our country’s multiculturalism, if a prayer is to be part of the ceremony, I would ask that it be worded to include people of all faiths and none. Alternatively, if you plan to maintain the sectarian prayer, I would request that a humanist invocation be added to the program.  I would be happy to help you source an appropriate humanist officiant to perform such an invocation.

Best regards,                                                       

Rhamona S. Vos-Browning


September 26, 2016 email to Joseph Waugh, BC/Yukon Command

Dear Mr. Waugh,

Earlier this year I wrote to Irene Brown, Recording Secretary for the Port Coquitlam Legion #133, regarding the use of a highly sectarian prayer to close the 2015 Remembrance Day Ceremony in Port Coquitlam. In her telephone reply, Ms. Brown said she did not have the authority, at the local level, to make changes to the program and referred me to you.

Briefly, my complaint is that the benediction "The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” from Numbers 6:24 -26, is a specifically Christian prayer used at the end of Christian religious services.

Port Coquitlam, like much of British Columbia, is a diverse, multi ethnic, multi faith community. The use of such a specifically Christian prayer at a high profile public occasion is exclusionary to the multi faith/no faith community wishing to honour the people who made such a community possible.

In the spirit of recognizing our country’s multiculturalism, if any prayer is to be part of the ceremony, I would ask that it be worded to include people of all faiths and none. Alternatively, if the sectarian prayer is to be included, I would request that a humanist invocation be added to the program.  I would be happy to help you source an appropriate humanist officiant to perform such an invocation.

While my original letter was specific to my home town, I would be interested in learning the policy of the Royal Canadian Legion BC/Yukon Commission in regards to this issue.

regards,

 

Rhamona S. Vos-Browning


September 27, 2016 Reply from Joseph Waugh

Rhamona,

Thank you for contacting the Royal Canadian Legion BC/Yukon Command with your concerns. BC/Yukon Command does not have rules which force branches to use specific prayers or invocations during the Remembrance Day Ceremony. I have informed the Branch 133 Port Coquitlam of this fact, and I recommend that you follow-up with them in regards to their up-coming Remembrance Day Ceremony.

Best regards,

 

Joseph Waugh

Showing 2 reactions

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  • commented 2016-11-01 15:40:23 -0700
    Thank you for this article. All bureaucracies employ this time honoured clerical tardiness in corresponding with those who challenge them. Sometimes a shake up is needed and that can take more than one form. I would recommend getting an ally who will be part of the official ceremonies and have that person lobby for your request. If time is short then consider a visible and respectful sign that is telegenic. If you are really someone with chutzpah then consider reciting a humanist poem when ceremonies are concluded but media and public are still there. If you want to be cheeky then make a Humanist wreath and lay it at close of ceremonies as well. You have options but they all require courage and conviction. As the Greeks say, Parrhesia!!!
  • commented 2016-10-17 18:33:57 -0700
    Honoring fallen soldiers with sectarian prayers is detrimental to recruiting. Some members of the majority religion cannot imagine how that feels. Eg, imagine being a Christian in a Hindu majority country and witnessing sectarian ceremonies. Would that help or hinder enrolment of non Hindus?


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