Credit to Author: Jennifer Saltman| Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2019 23:54:07 +0000
The B.C. government will continue to pray before the start of each sitting of the legislature, but it has changed the name of the practice to include non-religious reflections.
A group representing humanists, atheists, agnostics and non-religious people in B.C. called the updated terminology “a step forward,” but says it doesn’t go far enough.
“While an undoubtedly well-meaning amendment, we ultimately want to see prayers removed from the standing orders altogether,” said Ranil Prasad, a board member of the B.C. Humanist Association. “Government prayers are not inclusive of the overwhelming majority of British Columbians who are not religious, they violate the principle of separation of church and state, and, frankly, they are a waste of both taxpayer money and time in the chamber.”
Each day that the house sits, at the start of business, an MLA rises in the legislature to deliver a prayer. The person who speaks is welcome say a prayer from their faith or spiritual belief, or to offer some kind of secular reflection.
In an analysis that was released this fall, the B.C. Humanist Association found that of the hundreds of prayers delivered by MLAs and guests at the beginning of each legislative sitting between Oct. 6, 2003 and Feb. 12, 2019, they have became more sectarian, longer and more Christian.
In the standing orders, the official rules that govern the chamber, the daily routine is called “Prayers,” but on Thursday, the final sitting of this legislative session, house leader Mike Farnworth put forward a motion that the name be changed to “Prayers and Reflections.” The motion was unanimously approved.
Farnworth was not available for comment on Friday.
Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh, who is a non-practising Sikh, said she never considered standing up in the legislature to do a prayer before because she is not particularly religious. Although it’s just a name change that brings the terminology in line with what was already happening, she said it makes a difference.
“Maybe now that we have changed it to prayers and reflections, I might think about getting up one day and making a reflection on something that is important to me,” she said.
Singh recently made a motion, which was unanimously approved, to change a standing order to allow elected officials who wear head coverings, such as turbans or hijabs, to participate in debates. It was another example of the rules catching up to the practice, she said.
“When I look at the legislature, I think the legislature is changing, we have different kinds of people coming in,” she said. “I’m very happy with the changes that we are trying to bring in the legislature so that everybody can be part of it. Nobody should feel excluded.”
Ian Bushfield, the B.C. Humanist Association’s executive director, said the unanimous support for Farnworth’s motion shows that the association’s research and emails from supporters had an effect.
“This is a step forward for an institution that is often incredibly reluctant to change,” he said.
Bushfield said that while at this point it’s his understanding that it’s simply a name change, revisions have been made to sample prayers that MLAs can use as a guide.
“I guess we’ll have to see when the session returns in February if it’s treated at all differently,” he said.
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