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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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Seven prayers from MLAs that left us scratching our heads

Going through over 850 prayers this summer, we came across a few gems I wanted to share with you prior to the release of our study on Monday.

Unfortunately, we can't embed the videos here but the prayers are the first item of business if you want to watch them (you might need to skip ahead past the procession).

If you think prayers like these have no place in the legislature, make sure to send you MLA an email.

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Humanists call on BC MLAs to end prayers amid Legislature review

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.

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The first step to decolonizing Humanism

We acknowledge that this event takes place on the traditional and unceded shared territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Attend nearly any event in Vancouver in the past few years, particularly ones held by progressive organizations, and you are likely to hear some variation on those words. The practice of territorial acknowledgements has spread farther, with variations in communities across Canada and the USA recognizing the local indigenous peoples.

For many Humanists, these statements can be reminiscent of ritualistic Christian prayers that have often been said before formal events (and in some places still are). This is further complicated when a local indigenous elder is invited to give the acknowledgement and they invoke a deity — either from their own spiritual traditions or in some cases the Christian God.

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Will charities be free to speak during the election?

Canadian Twitter was ablaze today over a story that seemed to allege that any charity that talks about climate change during the election will be censored by Elections Canada.

The story comes from Mia Rabson’s scoop for The Canadian Press. She reported that Elections Canada may consider charities that run campaigns about climate change during the election to be captured under the Canada Elections Act.

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Introducing the BC Queer Humanist Alliance

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Last year, over 2600 scientists signed a statement that underlined the reality that gender cannot be defined along a strict binary.

The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood. There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex. Furthermore, even if such tests existed, it would be unconscionable to use the pretext of science to enact policies that overrule the lived experience of people’s own gender identities.

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Building on the BCHA's previous positions, and our Executive Director's statement on Quebec's Bill 21, the Board of Directors of the BC Humanist Association last week reiterated our opposition to the Quebec government's ban on religious symbols.

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He died as he lived: David Hume, philosopher and infidel

By Dennis Rasmussen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Tufts University

As the Scottish philosopher David Hume lay on his deathbed in the summer of 1776, his passing became a highly anticipated event. Few people in 18th-century Britain were as forthright in their lack of religious faith as Hume was, and his skepticism had earned him a lifetime of abuse and reproach from the pious, including a concerted effort to excommunicate him from the Church of Scotland. Now everyone wanted to know how the notorious infidel would face his end. Would he show remorse or perhaps even recant his skepticism? Would he die in a state of distress, having none of the usual consolations afforded by belief in an afterlife? In the event, Hume died as he had lived, with remarkable good humour and without religion.

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Budget 2020: A chance to advance a Secular BC

The BC Humanist Association has today asked the BC Legislature's Finance Committee to use Budget 2020 to advance secular values in British Columbia.

In its brief, the organization identifies four ways the budget can be used to end the privileging of religious views in the province.

  1. Phase out public funding of independent schools
  2. Reform property tax exemptions for “places of public worship”
  3. Secularize the public healthcare system
  4. End funding for discriminatory housing programs
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