The Last Municipality Standing: Unconstitutional Prayers in Alberta Council Meetings

May 6, 2024

This report examines the inclusion of prayers in municipal council meetings in Alberta, Canada, and compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada's 2015 ruling in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (Saguenay). That decision found the practice of opening council meetings with a prayer unconstitutional. Despite the ruling, six Albertan municipalities included prayers in their 2021 inaugural meetings and six continued to include prayers in regular council meetings. Additionally, we identify instances of secular invocations, reflective practices and moments of silence in municipal council meetings in Alberta.​ We highlight the inclusion of Indigenous content in council meetings and the need for municipalities to avoid prescriptive invitations to Indigenous representatives. We reiterate our recommendation for local governments to eliminate religious rituals from their council meetings.

Municipalities with prayers in their council meetings

We reviewed the records of the 179 municipalities in Alberta with a population over 1,000 (178 after January 2023). We identified eight municipalities that included prayer in their council meetings. Six (3.5%) of the 172 for which data were available included a prayer in their 2021 inaugural meetings and six (3.4%) of 177 included a prayer in their regular meetings. Four municipalities included prayer in their regular and inaugural meetings.

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

AB_report_Last_Muni_Standing_button.png

THE SAGUENAY PROJECT

This is the fourth in a series of reports from the BC Humanist Association that explore compliance with the Saguenay decision. In compiling these reports, we encourage municipalities to make their council meetings more accessible and welcoming to people of all beliefs and none. Each report follows a similar model and methodology but explores issues specific to the practice relating to ongoing municipal prayer in those jurisdictions.

The first report found that 23 municipalities in British Columbia opened their 2018 inaugural meetings with prayers. The second report found that six municipalities in Manitoba included prayers in their 2018 inaugural meetings. We also noted 4 municipalities in Manitoba that included prayer in their regular council meetings. The third report found that 156 of 328 municipalities reviewed in Ontario included prayers in their 2018 inaugural meetings, and nine of 360 included prayers in their regular meetings. The fourth report revisited British Columbia, finding that the number of municipalities with prayers in their inaugural meetings had declined from 26 to 7 between 2018 and 2022.

While our study in municipalities across Canada is ongoing, several emerging trends can be identified: (1) The number of municipalities including prayer in their meetings (regular or inaugural) has declined since Saguenay. Some municipalities responded to the ruling by changing their practices: sometimes abolishing the practice altogether, other times altering or adjusting their procedures. (2) Despite this reduction, prayer continues to be included in some municipal council meetings, particularly inaugural meetings, across the country. (3) These prayers are disproportionately delivered by Christian men.

Our project seeks to highlight violations of the Saguenay ruling with the goal of increasing compliance with the ruling, thereby strengthening the separation of religion and government in Canada and ensuring that all are welcome in municipal council chambers across the country.



Created with NationBuilder Creative Commons License