To coincide with the release of the second edition of its Legislative Prayers Across Canada report, the BC Humanist Association is launching a renewed call to end the practice of starting sittings in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia with prayers.
The new edition of the report reflects a change made by the Nova Scotia Legislature in October to begin each day with a 'moment of silent reflection.' Previously the Speaker read a version of the Lord's Prayer before MLAs began the day's proceedings.
In 2019, the BCHA released its House of Prayers report that analyzed over 15 years of daily prayers said in the legislature. It found that the vase majority were religious and, when a religion could be identified, were overwhelmingly Christian.
“Through our research, we have found that the prayers delivered in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia do not reflect the diversity of beliefs of British Columbians," said Dr Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the BCHA's Research Coordinator. "The practice favours one faith tradition over others and religious beliefs over irreligious beliefs. In this way, it opening the BC Legislature with prayer excludes non-believers and members of minority faith traditions.”
When House of Prayers was released, the BCHA launched a letter writing campaign that saw nearly 600 individuals ask their representatives to end the practice. At the end of 2019, MLAs unanimously supported a motion to change from "prayers" to "prayers and reflections."
"That nominal change to include secular reflections still forces non-Christian worldviews into a Christian supremacist box," said BCHA Executive Director Ian Bushfield. "Further, each day that begins with a prayer still excludes everyone whose worldview isn't reflected by that narrow dogma."
On October 14, Nova Scotia premier Tim Houston received unanimous consent for the following motion:
Whereas modernizing our democratic institutions to reflect our changing demographics makes institutions more welcoming to all Nova Scotians; and
Whereas the Rules that govern this historic Chamber must evolve to ensure Province House is truly the people's House; and
Whereas no matter the colour of a person's skin, their gender, who they love, the language they speak, or how they pray, they must feel welcome by their government;
Therefore be it resolved that Rule 16 of the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly be amended by replacing the words "read prayers" with the words "allow a moment of quiet reflection."