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Should prayer be scrapped in B.C. legislature? Humanist group says yes

The British Columbia Legislature building in Victoria, B.C., is lit up at dusk.
The British Columbia Legislature building in Victoria, B.C., is lit up at dusk. Don Denton/TCPI/The Canadian Press

Should sittings of the B.C. legislature open with a prayer?

An organization that represents B.C.’s non-religious residents says no, and is calling on people to email their MLAs to have the practice scrapped.

READ MORE: Should politicians pray? Canada’s Supreme Court says no, but parliamentarians say ‘Amen’

Current practice at the legislature is for daily sittings of the house to begin with an interdenominational prayer by an MLA or a visiting spiritual leader.

The BC Humanist Society says that’s a problem, citing a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which found that city councils that start with a prayer violated their “duty of religious neutrality” by favouring religious constituents over non-believers.

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“Every day, the B.C. legislature begins with an MLA delivering what is often a religious and sectarian prayer,” said the group on its campaign website.

“These prayers do not reflect the increasingly diverse and secular nature of our province.”

According to a new study by the association, the majority of prayers said in the legislature have been religious in nature, the bulk of them Christian.

READ MORE: N.B. mayor extends welcome mat to Quebecers unhappy with religious symbols bill

“This puts the lie to the claim that these prayers are representative of the diversity of this province, where polls have shown as much as 70 per cent of British Columbians do not practice a religion or faith,” the group says in a form letter it is promoting.

Eight of 10 provinces, all three territories and the national House of Commons in Canada hold some form of prayer.

The BC Humanist Association says the province should look instead to Quebec, which began opening its legislative sittings with a moment of quiet reflection in the 1970s, or Newfoundland and Labrador, which has never used prayer in the house.

Earlier this spring, the question of prayer in provincial legislatures took centre stage in New Brunswick, when a Green MLA sought unsuccessfully to eliminate mandatory Christian prayers in that province’s house.

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