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Report shows prayers in BC Legislature overwhelmingly religious, Christian

A new study of prayers said by MLAs in the Legislative Assembly of BC found that the prayers were overwhelmingly religious in nature and nearly all of the sectarian prayers were identified as Christian.

The report, from the BC Humanist Association, follows its call last week for MLAs to abandon the practice. The BCHA has submitted the report to the Acting Clerk as part of her review of the standard prayers made available to MLAs.

This groundbreaking report is entitled “House of Prayer: An Analysis of Prayers in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 2003-2019.” It details the discriminatory and exclusionary nature of prayer in the BC Legislature, and is part of a broader effort by the BCHA to end this practice.

Every day before its regular proceedings, an MLA is invited by the Speaker to lead the BC Legislature in prayer. The content of these daily prayers, which is not transcribed in Hansard, has never been studied before, until now. The study, which examined 873 prayers delivered in the BC Legislature from October 2003 to February 2019, classified over 71% of these prayers as religious. 

“We found that fewer MLAs are delivering prayers, and that prayers are getting longer and more religious,” said Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Research Coordinator for the BCHA and lead author of the report. “Prayer in the BC Legislature favours Christianity over other faith traditions, favours religious belief over irreligious belief, and violates the state’s duty of religious neutrality.”

The research behind the report has been underway since 2018. Earlier this year, over 50 volunteers for the BCHA transcribed 873 prayers delivered by MLAs and guests at the beginning of each sitting of the BC Legislature from October 6, 2003 (when video recordings of the legislative sessions began) to February 12, 2019. Over the summer, BCHA researchers coded these prayers across a series of categories, tabulated and analyzed the results.

“Some of the more perplexing prayers we encountered included thanking god for a shipbuilding contract, praising beef, and praying for BCTF contract negotiations,” said Noah Laurence, a researcher who worked on the project. 

In pursuing a better understanding the nature of prayer in the BC Legislature, the report seeks to establish the extent to which this practice fairly reflects the diversity of BC, and determine whether or not this practice is acceptable in a modern, multicultural province. 

An increasing number of British Columbians are reporting themselves as non-believers. For example, a 2016 Insights West poll commissioned by the BCHA found that 69% of British Columbians do not practice a religion or faith.

“In a modern and multicultural province, there is no reason to have daily prayers,” said Ranil Prasad, Campaigns Manager for the BC Humanist Association. “To end the exclusionary and discriminatory practice of opening sittings of the BC Legislature with prayer, we will require MLAs in the ‘silent majority’ to step up and take action.”

The BCHA is asking supporters to visit their website, where they can send a letter to their MLA and the Acting Clerk, to tell them to end the practice of opening sittings of the BC Legislature with a prayer. With added public pressure, the BCHA hopes that all parties will come to an agreement to amend the Standing Orders to remove this exclusionary practice from future sittings.

Key Findings: 

  • We categorize 71.2% of all the prayers delivered in the BC Legislature as religious. Of these, we were able to identify the religion for 21.7%.
  • Of the prayers where we could identify the religion, 93.1% of these were identified as ‘Christian,’ and Christian prayers represented 20.2% of all of the prayers delivered in the BC Legislature. 
  • 91.9% of prayers adopted a prayer structure by ending in ‘amen,’ and 53.8% of prayers included the name of a deity. Even 88.7% of the prayers coded as ‘secular’ were found to end in ‘Amen.’
  • NDP MLAs were marginally more likely to deliver secular prayers, compared with Liberal MLAs (31.4% vs. 26.0% of prayers).
  • Liberal MLAs were significantly more likely to deliver Christian prayers, with 25.4% of prayers given by Liberal MLAs being Christian, compared with 9.2% of prayers delivered by NDP MLAs. 
  • For both parties, the number of sectarian and Christian prayers have been steadily increasing. 

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.

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