Just 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.
— Natascia Lypny (@wordpuddle) April 15, 2015
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.
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.