No more prayers prior to council meetings

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June 2, 2015 8:15 AM

Lloydminster city council is officially ending its practice of beginning each meeting with a prayer.

At its May 25 meeting, a recommendation was put forward by the legislative services department that council either amend the Procedure Bylaw to replace the prayer with a moment of silence or repeal the bylaw completely and begin meetings without a contemplative gesture of any kind. All present councillors voted in favour of replacing the prayer with a moment of silence except for Linnea Goodhand, who preferred the second option.

“I think what the Supreme Court told us to do was to be neutral and I consider bowing my head and being self-reflective to be very indicative of what could be conceived of as prayer,” she said. “Whether it’s my prayer or a general prayer, an inclusive prayer, it looks like prayer and I think what we’ve been told to do is to stop that.”

On April 15, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that the municipal council in Saguenay, Que. could no longer begin council meetings with a Catholic prayer, stating that the move infringed on a person’s freedom of religion and conscience. The decision followed an eight-year legal battle by an atheist complainant who was ultimately awarded $33,200 in compensation from the city. In the spirit of the ruling, cities across Canada, including Edmonton, Regina and Ottawa, have stopped holding prayers.

In Lloydminster council had been beginning each meeting since the ruling with a moment of silent reflection, with Mayor Rob Saunders explaining that praying would be suspended pending the city’s deliberation on the issue.

As part of its research on the subject the Legislative Services cited a survey of 31 Saskatchewan and Alberta cities regarding their stance on prayer. Twenty-three of the councils did not hold a prayer at meetings, and of the eight that did, four have since removed prayer while the other half will make a decision on the topic in the future.

“Our strategic plan for our city is to be an inclusive city,” Saunders said. “Providing a moment of silent personal reflection (accommodates) people of any faith or belief or conscience… So I believe we satisfied the needs of everyone with that recommendation.”

Goodhand says following the Supreme Court’s ruling should protect Lloydminster from the kind of costly litigation that happened in Quebec.

“If one continues to pray in council in the face of that decision you expose yourself to risk,” she said. “This fellow who took the City of Saguenay all the way to the Supreme Court ended up with money in his pocket payable by the City of Saguenay because they refused to respect the fact that freedom of religion means freedom from religion. So it was pretty clear to me as a lawyer, as a member of this council, that we had to stop.”

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