MPs speak in favour of ending prayers in the House of Commons

At a special debate over the Standing Orders last week, two Members of Parliament spoke in favour of ending the prayers said each day in the House of Commons.

Standing Order 51 sets aside time in the House of Commons for a debate on the Standing Orders following an election. The debate, which happened on Thursday, June 2, 2022, allowed MPs to speak for up to ten minutes on any concerns or recommendations they have around the House of Commons' procedures. The entire debate lasted only about two hours.

Bloc Québécois MP Julie Vignola raised the issue of prayers as part of her speech:

During the Bloc Québécois's opposition day on May 10, several members of the House criticized us for using an opposition day to discuss the prayer. Some of them said it was frivolous. However, when a subject provokes heated debate in the House, it signals that this subject is important to the members. How can a subject that is so important to people be considered frivolous? I wonder about that.

These same individuals suggested that we bring up the matter of the prayer on the day dedicated to discussing Standing Order 51. That is what I am doing. My first suggestion is to amend Standing Orders 30(1) and 30(2) in chapter IV. My suggestion for Standing Order 30(1) is that the Speaker set aside a moment of silence for personal reflection, respecting each member's beliefs, every day at the meeting of the House before any business is entered upon. Since Standing Order 30(2) provides that the business of the House shall commence after the prayer, it would instead say that it shall commence after a moment of reflection.

This is a minor change. Each member will be able to follow their conscience, beliefs and faith. I am talking about respecting everyone present by not imposing a prayer that may not be consistent with their faith or convictions. It is also a way of demonstrating to the public that, regardless of one's faith and beliefs, the House and its representatives work for everyone, not just those who feel comfortable with a particular religion. As it stands now, the prayer clearly refers to a Christian God and suggests Anglicanism in particular.

During this moment of reflection, members may speak silently to whichever god or spiritual leader they wish, or to themselves, for that matter. Do the concepts of omnipotence and omniscience shared by many religions not imply that expressions of faith can be heard even if they are not spoken aloud?

In her question to Vignola, Nanaimo-Ladysmith NDP MP Lisa Marie Barron endorsed the idea of ending the prayers:

I want to first acknowledge that I agree with the efforts to re-evaluate the morning prayer and instead replace it with a moment of silence. I voted in favour of that motion, and I agree that we need to make that space safe and available for everybody in whatever way they would like to use it.

This latest call for the end of daily prayers follows a full-day debate and vote on the issue last month during an Opposition Day motion. That vote ultimately failed 266-56, with many MPs arguing the proper place for such a debate was during this debate over the Standing Orders or at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Comments made by MPs at last week's debate were ultimately referred to the Standing Committee for further study.

The BCHA is finalizing a brief for the Committee and continues to encourage supporters to write to their MP to ask them to end the prayers in the House of Commons.

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