Calling the practice antiquated and discriminatory, members of the BC Humanist Association are calling on Members of the Legislative Assembly to scrap the prayers that begin each day’s work at the legislature. The call comes as the Acting Clerk of the Legislature conducts a review of the practice.
Every day before its regular proceedings, one MLA rises in the Legislature to deliver a prayer. By rotating who gives the prayer, proponents have claimed the practice is more diverse than other legislatures that simply begin with the Lord’s Prayer or the House of Commons, which begins with a standard prayer. Because the prayers said in the BC Legislature are not recorded by Hansard, it’s not been previously possible to test these claims, until now.
The BCHA’s forthcoming study, to be released in the next week, shows an overwhelming majority of prayers said by MLAs could be categorized as religious. A 2016 Insights West poll commissioned by the BCHA found that 69% of British Columbians do not practice a religion or faith.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
The Supreme Court of Canada was clear that our government’s 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. It’s time we end this antiquated and discriminatory practice.
Following questions about legislative prayers from the BCHA, Acting Clerk of the Legislature Kate Ryan-Lloyd began a review of the standard prayers that are made available to members. She has reached out to the BCHA, Canadian Multifaith Coalition and MLAs to help identify 10-12 additional prayers to include, representing seven to eight different sectarian religious and secular traditions.
The BCHA will submit a preliminary draft of its study to the Acting Clerk for her review, along with a recommendation that the prayers be scrapped or reformed to reflect the diversity and history of the province.
Ranil Prasad, Campaigns Manager, BC Humanist Association:
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.
The BCHA is asking supporters to send a letter to their MLA calling on an end to prayers in the legislature. With added public pressure, the BCHA hopes that all parties will agree to amend the standing orders to remove prayers from future sittings.