Friendly Update, City Hall: If Council Stops Praying I’ll Lose Valuable Twitter Time

This Week at City HallJust read on CBC how Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that opening city council meetings with a prayer infringes on people’s freedom of conscience and religion. And, I’ve also just read on Twitter that Mayor Fougere has told the Leader Post’s Natascia Lypny that the City of Regina will review the decision and will likely abide by the court’s decision.

So yeah, Regina council meetings probably won’t be starting with prayers for much any longer.¹

Not sure how I feel about all this. I’ve been through dozens of pre-council prayers. (I dutifully stand then use that time to log into my Twitter accounts.) It’s one of those quaint throw-back customs that I think are awfully cute. You know, like how people step over sidewalk cracks for fear of breaking their mother’s back. Or wear watermelons on their heads to football games because it…? Makes football players football harder?

But I think I’m going to have to side with the Supreme Court on this one and say it’s probably time for council prayers to go.

I mean, council is supposed to be for everybody, regardless of creed (or lack thereof). And while the prayer our council always says is pretty innocuous in its vagueness, it still sounds totally christian-ey. (Or should that be christian-ish?)

And if you’re trying to create an atmosphere that’s maximally welcoming, you probably shouldn’t kick things off with a display that so obviously favours only one slice of the faith pie.

Now, in the next few days there’s going to be loads of people saying stuff like council prayer time is just a harmless tradition and that it doesn’t name Jesus and therefore it’s totally ecumenical — anyone of any faith can play along and, in the privacy of their own heads, direct their entreaties to the appropriate deity.

But come on. Can we please stop kidding ourselves about this? That whole, “stand up and, as a group, ask a higher power for guidance”-thing is a christian schtick. It just is. Jainists don’t pray like that. Neither do Buddhists. Nor Confucians.

Wiccans might… I’m not sure. And Raelians… who knows?

Atheists, I can say with some certainly, don’t pray at all unless you count silently swearing about slow wifi.

My point being we think that because the prayer lacks any specificity in its wording it’s therefore not representative of any specific cultural practice. But the thing is there’s still loads of specificity in the whole performance. And that makes it kind of exclusionary.

We can pretend like our prayers before council are an innocuous, all-inclusive tradition, but we can only do that because we know fuck-all about other world religions and how they conduct their particular brands of worship.

Seriously, it wouldn’t be completely outrageous for someone from a non-christian background (or non-faith background) to witness the gallery in Henry Baker hall standing to pray and see it as council saying “this is a christian tent but we’ll let you come in.” And that’d be a shitty thing for us to be saying. And I’d hate for people to get that impression from our city.

But that’s just me.

Oh, by the way… I also expect that over the next few days there’s going to be people saying on the interwebs that “Canada’s a Christian country, get over it.” And you know what? Canada’s a free country so they can think that. And they can say that.

But a city council is the elected head of a secular organization that deals with earthly concerns. Making any implicit declarations about the christian-ness of our nation, province or city is the last thing it should be doing.


FOOTNOTE

¹ Update: Guess it’s official. Global’s reporting that Mayor Fougere has held a press conference and announced that after consulting the city’s solicitors, they will be suspending pre-council prayers. Global also quotes the mayor as saying, “Not in my time, my 17 years on council has one person been concerned or was offended by any of that, so we’ve continued that practice without any concern from the public at all.”

Really? Seventeen years of prayers without any concern from the public? Clearly he doesn’t read my Twitter feed.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

9 thoughts on “Friendly Update, City Hall: If Council Stops Praying I’ll Lose Valuable Twitter Time”

  1. While I agree with the SCOC decision, and with Mayor Fougere’s decision to follow it, I’d like first to educate you on the topic of group prayer.

    Christians (and yes, the capital letter for the proper noun is a sign both of respect AND of literacy, PD) are not the only religious folks to pray before undertakings such as meetings. Jewish, Muslim, and First Nations people, among others, make a point of praying before an event of importance or even a social gathering, asking for guidance, enlightenment, a good outcome, etc. When I was on the Regina Board of Education, and we met regularly with the Aboriginal Elders Advisory group, we always began consultations with a prayer, offered turn about by elders or trustees. Sometimes there was a sweetgrass smudge, too, and all of this at the Board Office. Now, if you’re going to rag on one group for prayer in a public place, be inclusive, baby, and rag on every group.

    That said, back to the decision. While I think that City Council needs all the help it can get, spiritually and otherwise, I don’t think it needs a formal religious (some might call it cultural) observance before meetings. The call to order is, in my opinion, sufficient to remind everyone present of the need to take Council business seriously. Anyone who wants to pray can do so in his/her head.

  2. While I’d be annoyed by a “Christian prayer”, especially by how hollow it would likely be, I’d also be concerned by the vacuum this may open for some other religious org to want to fill. Kind of like Barb said.

    We are, historically, a Christian nation; if we’re banning Christian prayer, we sure as hell better be banning all public prayer at secular city council meetings.

    It would be rather disgusting if rational, secular, egalitarian thought outlawed city council prayer for Christians, only to have a milksoppy form of political correctness open the door for some other group to demand their prayers be heard aloud.

  3. Remove the word “god” from the national anthem too, please. Replace it with “please” or “let’s” or something.

    Prior to this decision by the supreme court, I had already heard of a council in the country switching to a period of silence for “contemplation” or something, instead of a group prayer. This seems like a reasonable alternative.

  4. Well said, Talbot.
    A moment of silence before meetings is very reasonable. I’ve heard of this being done in public schools at the start of the day, too.
    Ritual is universal, and its main purpose is to put people in the right frame of mind for what they are about to do. It certainly doesn’t have to be religious in nature.

  5. I’d have to agree with what’s already been stated by the others here. It’s wise for Regina City Council and many other jurisdictions to follow through with this ruling.

    It would be nice if some generic alternative prayer was created that satisfies all parties involved.

  6. The Clerk’s Prayer, used at Regina City Council, goes like this ….
    “We beseech thee, oh Lord, that our decisions will be made with justice and prudence. Amen.”

  7. And a good prayer it is, too, but when you address a deity, it’s a religious practice, not only a cultural one. If you were to say ” May our decisions be made with justice and prudence”, you’d be good.

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