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Thoughts and prayers: Religion stays in B.C. legislature, now joined by ‘reflections’

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

When MLAs return to Victoria next year, the way they approach prayer ahead of sittings in the legislature will be a little bit different.

Members unanimously supported a motion by NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth on Thursday to change pre-siting “prayers” to “prayers and reflections.”

The change follows a drive by the BC Humanist Association, which wants to see the separation of church and state ratcheted up a notch.

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

I think it’s a good step, but we still think it could just be reduced to reflections,” said association executive director Ian Bushfield.

“Those MLAs who want to give a more religious reflection could do that, but it’s not really the legislature as a whole’s place to be saying that prayers are something the government does.”

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The association released a study in September which found that the majority of the prayers said in the legislature in the last 15 years have been religious in nature, most of them Christian.

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

The association points to 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.

“We think MLAs should try to make secular arguments that appeal to all British Columbians and try to be more inclusive,” said Bushfield.

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“It also recognizes that the overwhelming majority of British Columbians are fairly secular and non-religious. Most people don’t go to church on a regular basis.”

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

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

Quebec opens legislative sittings with a moment of quiet reflection, while Newfoundland and Labrador 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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