Friday, April 17, 2015

Prayer in the Public Square



I can't imagine that any of us are surprised at the news. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the council of the town of Saguenay in Quebec can no longer begin meetings with a prayer. The fact that they do is perplexing to be sure, because Quebec is the most secular province in Canada although it has a strong Roman Catholic heritage. The mayor invited councillors into prayer with the sign of the cross, which is certainly not non-sectarian. The court reminded us that:

 Sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions,” Justice Cl√©ment Gascon, from Quebec, said in writing for the court. Prayer is a religious practice, the court said. “Even if it is said to be inclusive, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers.

Since the decision the Ottawa city council has chosen not to begin its meetings with prayer, and Oshawa has taken heat for continuing with the Lord's Prayer. I listened to CBC listeners who responded with a variety of opinions. One spoke of her exclusion from the classroom as a child during the Lord's Prayer because she was Jewish. A Muslim caller said that he has no problem with what he regards as a universal prayer such as the Lord's Prayer.

As much as I lament the secularization of our society, I agree with this decision. Dogged determination to uphold Christian prayer in the public square won't make our culture more religious or spiritual. And I have been asked to say enough "ready, set, go" prayers at public functions through the years that I am dubious about their value. I am always willing to engage in prayer in any setting where it will be meaningful and appropriate. But it seems that is time for us to honour the separation of church and state, whatever our personal convictions might be.

What are your thoughts on this one?

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