Ontario City Council Members Wants to Reinstate the Lord’s Prayer

Last month, the Perth County Council (In Ontario, Canada) did something a lot of American city councils never have the courage to do. They passed a by-law (PDF) removing the Lord’s Prayer from the opening of their meetings, replacing it with a “Moment of Reflection.” It’s not the ideal change, but it’s better than the alternative.

It was a close vote, too:

County councillors voted 5-4 Thursday to replace the prayer with a moment of silent reflection.

Warden Ian Forrest supports the change. “I am very much a believer in the separation of church and state,” he said.

Forrest said in an interview that, as a Christian, he firmly believes in the separation of church and state.

“Looking back at our history ever since the Reformation, the countries that have had separation of church and state have had happier states of affairs than those that haven’t,” he said.

“It certainly is one of the things, unfortunately, that the Americans are struggling with now — the role of the church in the political process. In my estimation, some of them are going in the wrong direction.”

When a government official speaks that much truth, you know people are going to complain… and that’s exactly what’s happening.

A month after the initial decision was made, Councillor Walter McKenzie will be asking the council to “revisit” the Moment of Reflection at their next meeting in the hopes that the others will magically find god… and put the city in danger of being sued.

“It’s a tradition and a custom people have gotten used to over the years,” he added. “It just feels when it’s left out we are missing something.”

At McKenzie’s request, council will re-examine its decision on the Lord’s Prayer at its next meeting March 15.

If anything, McKenzie said it would give councillors one last opportunity to give the contentious issue “a sober second thought.”

He added, “If they wish to reinstate it, fine. And if they don’t, I’m quite prepared to go with what the majority wishes.”

The five Councilors who voted against the Prayer were perfectly “sober” the first time. You would hope they remain steadfastly in support of church/state separation.

Right now, though, most of the public response has been in support of reinstating the Lord’s Prayer.

McKenzie told councillors last week he has received several emails and been stopped on the street by people who are not happy that the Christian prayer was dropped from council’s formal proceedings. He also noted there have been several letters to the editor in local newspapers from people who feel the same way.

“I have had no comments about keeping (the prayer) out; I’ve only had comments about putting it back in,” he noted. “I’m just doing what I thought would be the proper thing and asking if council wishes to take a second look at it.”

Well, it’s time to put a stop to that. Email Councillor McKenzie and tell him you support church/state separation. BE RESPECTFUL! And if you live in Stratford (or Ontario in general), please make a note of that. Let him know that we’re paying attention to what they decide and encourage him to make the right decision. Maybe he’ll end up being the person who flips his vote.

(Thanks to Meaghen for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://parsleyvictorious.blogspot.com Parsley Victorious

    Resident of Ontario here. Letter sent.

    • Anonymous

      Resident of Ontario here. Letter sent.

      Ditto here.  Letter pending :)

  • http://twitter.com/RonSly Ron Sly

    Thanks for the heads op Hemant – Stratford is a great little theatre town, it’d be a shame if it became the home of religious discrimination. My reply for those who like to copy and paste: https://plus.google.com/u/0/102239978126739099359/posts/DjvAdKFTpd6

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Ibbitson/100000518750094 Bob Ibbitson

      It was nice to learn about this but I’m on the other end, keep faith issues and statements in your church/temple or own home. I’m tired of the browbeatings that occur over the faithful feeling put upon.

  • Cheron

    Unlike the US Constituion the Canadian charter actually does mention god.

    “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”

    I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I did send a letter.

    • http://twitter.com/Dan_Mansfield Dan Mansfield

       Exactly. It would be great if the vote stays, but I have the sinking feeling that it will be overturned by public opinion and well-organized opposition.

      The City of Oshawa, a city of over 150,000 people, had this same controversy 5 years ago. Read this depressing story from the Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/News/article/172326. No one came out to support separation of church and state, and even the mayor went so far as to declare God’s supremacy, “full stop.”

    • Anonymous

      And yet, which is largely a secular country (except for some peculiarities in the school system) and which is a quasi-theocracy?

      • Lurker

        Yup. It’s a little like many European nations in that regard. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion (while mentioning “God” in the preamble, which wasn’t in the original draft of the 1982 constitution [I'm unsure about the 1867 constitution], but was demanded by a number of MPs), which has largely been interpreted as a separation between church and state. However, there are all sorts of bizzarre practices that aren’t technically illegal because there isn’t a formal separation. It’s annoying more than anything, and very frustrating that there’s minimal legal teeth to go after such things.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    “Moment of Reflection”

    Bring a mirror.

  • Edwin

    though i dont live or work in ontario i’m watching this progress because most decisions made in ontario and quebec tend to be adopted by the other provinces, if the prayer is reinstated then we of the other areas of the country will have to push harder to ensure it doesnt happen where we live.

    • Lurker

      Except in Alberta, where I live. If Ontario (and especially Quebec) do something, that means Alberta will try to do the opposite if possible. It makes me sad :(

      • Michaelbrice

        Really? You actually believe that? You are actually suggesting that our Alberta government is so petty that it will deliberately create legislation/regulation only to take the opposite position of other Provinces (especially Quebec, as you state). get a grip dude and stop posting nonsense!

  • Erp

    This is Canada, I’m not sure having the Lord’s Prayer is illegal though it is a slap in the face to those of other beliefs (or none). 

    • Reginald Jooald

      We don’t have any separation of Church/State nor any restriction on establishing a state religion, which is why publicly-funded private Catholic schools aren’t unconstitutional (alas).

      The Charter does, however, have a restriction on religious discrimination. I don’t know if any case like this has ever been tried against that restriction, so I don’t know how it would play out.

    • Veronica Abbass

      Ontario is in Canada and reciting the Lord’s Prayer Reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the start of meetings contrary  is illegal and is contrary to the
      Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms for Ontario municipal
      councils.   If  Joan Fowler’s comment and link doesn’t convince you, try this:
      http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/1999/September/freitag.htm

  • Joan Fowler

    A case against this practice was actually won on appeal in Ontario and the town of Penetanguishene required to remove the Lord’s Prayer from their council meetings based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. See below:

    The Court of Appeal for Ontario in the case of Freitag vs. the town of
    Penetanguishene, Ontario 1998

     

    [53] The practice of the Town of Penetanguishene and of the

    Mayor of opening the Town Council and committee meetings by

    asking the councillors to rise and recite with him the

    Lord’s Prayer infringes the appellant’s Charter right to

    freedom of religion under s. 2(a) and cannot be saved under

    s. 1. The appellant is entitled to a remedy under s. 24(1)

    of the Charter.

    [54] The appeal is therefore allowed. The judgment below is

    set aside and judgment is granted declaring that the

    practice of the Town is unconstitutional and enjoining the

    Town Council from continuing to require or permit the Lord’s

    Prayer to be recited by members of Council at the

    commencement of its meetings. The appellant shall have his

    costs both here and below.

     

    For the full decision see: http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/1999/September/freitag.htm

     

  • Anonymous

    The phrase “a sober second thought” is a quotation from Sir John A. Macdonald (our first PM) about the purpose of the Canadian Senate. It’s become a common phrase employed when re-considering legislation or taking more time to deliberate on an issue before making a decision.

    • dauntless

      Thanks for the information. Look at how all these people who aren’t even from Canada are taking offense and writing letters about something cultural they don’t even get. Our community can sometimes be as bad as the religious people who complain about the atheist billboards.

    • Paul Little

       Because when John A. was Prime Minister, the first thought was rarely sober…

      • Michaelbrice

        Paul, perhaps a little background would help our american ‘cousins’ understand your reference. 

        John A. MacDonald was famous for his love of alcohol, he is renowned for sipping gin and water during parliamentary debates.

  • Michael Parker

    Ontario here…Letter sent!

  • mjschmidt

    Ontario resident. Here is my letter:

    Mr. McKenzie,

    I am an Ontario resident, although I do not live in
    Perth. I wanted it to bring to your attention that the issue of the
    prayer before council meetings is now beginning to spread across the
    internet, and being featured on various blogs
    (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/03/09/ontario-city-council-members-wants-to-reinstate-the-lords-prayer/).

    I
    understand that some things have been “done for a long time” and are
    “tradition”, but not all traditions are good, or, if they were at one
    time, become unneeded. It can be hard to let go of a tradition, we
    become so used to them, so comfortable with them that it can sadden or
    anger us when they are gone. However, emotion should never be the reason
    to keep a “tradition”, rather if it is worthy of rational scrutiny,
    then it can become accepted as “best
    practices” for as long as it is best.

    In the case of the prayer
    before council meetings, it is an example of a tradition that is not
    only unnecessary, but demonstrates bias in a modern world. A government
    body at any level is elected to govern for all of
    the people, not just some, and not just for the majority. Freedom of
    religion means not only that no one religion should be given (even
    perceived) preference over others, but that freedom from religion must also be upheld and protected.

    It is entirely possible to be a moral, ethical person, and to make decisions for your city, province, or country without resorting
    to religion. We all do it every day without even thinking about it, but
    it’s true. I am
    an atheist, but I don’t hurt people, I don’t cheat people, I don’t
    steal from people. I love my family and friends, and I lead a
    well-rounded, fulfilling life without the need for religion.A religious prayer, any
    religious prayer, has no place in government when decisions are being
    made that affect everyone, not just those of a particular religion, or
    any religion at all.When council reconsiders the issue of a
    prayer before meetings, I urge you to keep the moment of silence. In
    this way those who want to can still pray, no one can stop them, but the
    government will be offering no endorsement of religion, which is what
    an “official” prayer does.

  • tbell

    My email:

    Dear Mr. McKenzie,

     

    I just read about the Perth County Council’s decision to
    replace The Lord’s Prayer at the opening of the council’s meetings with a
    moment of reflection, a development I whole heartedly endorse. I also
    understand that, in spite of a majority of councillors voting in favour of the
    change, you have asked them to reconsider and vote on the issue again.

     

    As a Canadian and an Ontarian (I live in the Region of Peel),
    a continuing source of pride for me is the constructive and civilized manner in
    which we tend to conduct ourselves when it comes to governance. One only has to
    look to our cousins south of the border to understand the divisive and
    corrosive effect of allowing religion and politics to be inappropriately interwoven.

     

    Canada has a proud heritage of multiculturalism which is at
    the very heart of our national values of tolerance and inclusion. To make a
    prayer specific to any one religion a mandated part of government procedures
    runs completely counter to these core values.

     

    I urge you and your fellow council members to adhere to the
    resolution as it stands and allow each councillor to use the moment of reflection
    in a manner guided by their own individual faith and conscience.

     

    Best Regards,

  • Myatheistlife

    Why don’t we non-believers simply start enforcing their god’s law on those that vote to keep prayer in government? That means watching to ensure they don’t work on the Sabbath,  that they don’t eat shellfish, that they don’t violate any of the food laws of their religion, that they don’t suffer women to talk or teach (no women councillors), that they don’t tolerate glbtq practices, that they support slavery, that they don’t tolerate unruly children, and on and on. Force them to see their issues with public outcry and publication of all the laws they break or fail to keep faithfully.

    When public humiliation is the cost of voting as a proxy for your church it may be too much for many to vote that way. Dig into their past, drop their docs – they are public figures after all. Try wikilleaks etc. Oh, and their support of biblical laws means any kind of hanky panky or messing around needs to be brought to public attention immediately. Not because it is immoral but because it shows exactly how much prayer in government is working.

    Yes, kind of bad argument but if the faithful want to push their law and morality on the rest of us it is only fair that we push it back on them. I don’t mean to invite morality police to watch these counsellors, but it would not hurt  the public to know just how people behave that believe we need prayer in government.

    If an anti-theist were to suggest we need prayer in government they would be questioned “Why, you don’t even believe in gods?” — did the penny drop?  Oh, don’t listen to that we’re all sinners bs. If someone kills because god told him to then he’s not a true Christian. That’s like saying a drunkard is not a true alcoholic because they didn’t attend meetings.

    So, someone organize to go to the meeting with offers of helping to watch what these counsellors do in their lives which is against god and prayer. Let them  know they will be held accountable. When church and state are not separate the morality police will be watching you. Oh wait… I guess I am suggesting it… go, watch, oh ye morality police. Go and bring morality to these counsellors for Christ.

  • Ionian

    One of the letters to the editor quoted in one of the articles states, 
    “I am asking you to please reconsider this plan and admit you (or anyone else) can’t do the job you are there to do without God.”

    I would agree that this is the inescapable message that the prayer was sending: that the council can’t do it’s job without invoking the Christian God, that they are Christians doing Christian work. And one therefore would have to conclude that no non-Christians are suitable to participate in local government. I suppose it’s refreshing to see the ugliness of a view that gives Christians a superior place in public life laid bare.

    Thought for the life of me, I will never understand why none of the people defending the Lord’s Prayer in public seem to ever have read Matthew 6, where the prayer is given in the Bible with explicit instruction NOT to pray in public “like the hypocrites do.” It’s right in immediately preceding verses!

  • Darthcynic

    Perhaps they need to try the Irish solution to this problem?

    Here we have two houses of government, the Dail and the Seanad.  The latter serves no useful purpose I am aware of but is a good place to round out your political career, pick up a paycheck and another pension as well if I recall rightly.  This is neither here nor there mind, the senate has an overtly Christian prayer before business opens and this had been challenged by Atheist Ireland (http://www.atheist.ie/2012/02/seanad-to-vote-today-to-add-silent-reflection-before-daily-prayer/#more-2670) and two senators there.  This is not just read aloud but all in attendance are obliged to stand for the exercise regardless of their religious affiliation or lack-there-of.

    It went to a vote and huzzah, the old standard was torn down and we too got a standing thirty seconds of silent reflection before, wait for it…, the overtly Christian prayer carried on regardless.  Whoopee!  You see in Ireland we have this word called ‘compromise’, not the same definition the rest of the world may have, but a different and special one that means the privileged group carries on being so but if you insist you can have some theater before the devotions to his lordship.  Bizarrely it was the atheist senator that was calling it a compromise and supporting the pointless additions before the Christians had the prayer anyway.


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