TORONTO, August 1, 2012 – The recent filing of a lawsuit against Grey County council for opening public meetings with the Lord’s Prayer is part of Ontario Secular Alliance’s ongoing effort to remove the prayer from the opening of council meetings in at least 18 Ontario municipalities.
The alliance is clear enough about its goal for faith-free public spaces. On this particular campaign, its home page states: “Secular Ontario’s first initiative is to request that municipalities in Ontario refrain from reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” at council meetings. The population of Ontario embraces a variety of religious sects and some do not acknowledge any deity. Municipalities serve all residents and cannot be seen as favouring one particular religion. Therefore, municipalities have to remain secular so that all of its citizens can feel included.”
A genuine understanding of secularism and inclusion would mean that all religions are welcome. In the case of prayer at public meetings, this need not mean that there is no opening reflection, but that it might be non-sectarian, or perhaps rotate among the various religious groups represented in the community.
The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the former possibility in its 1999 judgement in Freitag v. Penetanguishene, noting that while the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at town council meetings violated the Charter right to freedom of religion, “the purposes articulated by the Mayor for opening the meetings of the Town Council with the Lord’s Prayer could be served, for example, by a non-denominational prayer and a moment of silence, similar to the current practice of the House of Commons.”
The League supports the right of all elected bodies to begin their meetings with prayer. The experience in Ontario suggests that the majority of people support maintaining this long-standing custom, perhaps augmented by the inclusion of prayers and reflections from other faith traditions. The promotion of religious freedom and diversity should encourage us to embrace religious traditions, not banish them from public life.
Lawsuit aims to end Lord’s Prayer at Grey County council meetings, Catholic Register, August 1.