Eight Alberta municipalities include unconstitutional prayers at council meetings

In its fifth report on prayer in municipal council meetings across Canada, the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) has identified eight municipalities in Alberta that included prayer in their council meetings.

The BCHA has been examining compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada's 2015 ruling in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (Saguenay), which deemed the practice of opening council meetings with a prayer unconstitutional. Previous reports looked at British Columbia (twice), Manitoba and Ontario.

The Last Municipality Standing zeroed in on Alberta and found that six municipalities included prayers in their 2021 inaugural meetings, and six continue to include prayer in regular council meetings. Four municipalities included prayer in both. These findings are violations of the duty of religious neutrality outlined in Saguenay.

Municipality Inaugural Regular
MD of Bonnyville
Camrose County
Cardston County  
Flagstaff County  
Medicine Hat
Pincher Creek  

While Medicine Hat's council meetings began with "a moment of prayer or reflection", the rest were all Christian. Notably, Camrose County invites a local religious representative to open every council meeting. The MD of Bonnyville discontinued council prayers in 2019, only to resume the practice following the 2021 election.

Dr Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Research Coordinator, BCHA and co-author:

"By including prayers in their meetings, these municipalities sent a clear message that elevated one religion - Christianity - over others, and religion over non-religion. This is a violation of the state's duty of religious neutrality. It is important that municipal council meetings are welcoming to all, regardless of belief or lack thereof. Municipalities must follow the directives of the Supreme Court."

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BCHA and co-author:

"While most major cities in Alberta dropped council prayers almost immediately after the Saguenay decision, we were disturbed to see some continue the practice and even bring it back after years of secular and inclusive meetings. We hope these findings inspire those Albertans who recognize the importance of secular government to make their voices heard."

The report was soft-launched at the WeCanReason conference in Calgary on May 4, 2024. WeCanReason was hosted by Rocky Mountain Atheists and sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry Canada.​

Janalee Morris, President, Rocky Mountain Atheists:

“Omitting prayer from local government meetings promotes genuine inclusivity. It guarantees everyone can participate without being compelled to partake in religious rituals linked to a specific group. This approach highlights sound governance by emphasizing fairness and neutrality in public proceedings.”

Ed Perkins, Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC) Alberta:

This report provides the evidence needed for CFIC Alberta to request Alberta municipalities, their councils and committees of councils (including police commissions) to respect the constitutional duty of religious neutrality. The Supreme Court of Canada has been explicitly clear that the practice of prayers in council meetings is not inclusive and that the state must be neutral in this regard.

CFIC Alberta will lobby to ensure no one religion or religious belief will be elevated above the 40% of Albertans without religious beliefs.

Key findings from the report include:

  1. 2021 Inaugural Meetings: Out of the 172 municipalities for which data were available, six (3.5%) opened their 2021 inaugural meetings with prayer(s), and two (1.1%) opened with a 'moment of silence.'
  2. Regular Meetings: Data were available for the regular meetings of 177 municipalities, and of those, six (3.4%) opened their regular meetings with prayer, two (1.2%) opened with a 'moment of silence,' and three (1.7%) opened with a 'reflection.'​
  3. Indigenous Content: While not classified as prayers, the report noted the increasing inclusion of territorial acknowledgements and Indigenous welcomes in municipal council meetings. In the 2021 inaugural meetings, 31 (18.0%) municipalities included some form of Indigenous content, and in regular meetings, 58 (32.8%) municipalities opened with Indigenous content.

The report reiterates the BCHA's recommendation that municipalities adhere to the Saguenay decision and eliminate religious rituals from their council meetings.​ It suggests specific actions, such as removing prayers or invocations from meeting agendas, not granting speaking time to representatives of religious organizations in inaugural meetings, and being cautious when replacing prayers with a moment of silence or secular reflection to avoid any perception of religious intent.


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