Starting a municipal council meeting with prayer was ruled unconstitutional in a 2015 Supreme Court decision.
Municipalities across the country have had a few years to stop the inclusion of prayer in their meetings and change procedures, according to a new report from the BC Humanist Association, ‘Duty of Neutrality Beyond Saguenay.’
Chilliwack, Langley, and White Rock were among the 23 municipalities found by researchers to have violated the “duty of religious neutrality” in 2018 by beginning their inaugural council meetings with prayers.
City officials across the province were notified of the Saguenay decision and asked to ensure future sessions would be conducted in a manner that was “inclusive and constitutional.”
Chilliwack council’s inaugural meeting of Nov. 6, 2018 saw Major Angus Haggarty leading the invocation to prayer before mayor and council were sworn in.
“After the inauguration, we received an email advising us of the Saguenay decision,” said City of Chilliwack spokesperson Jamie Leggatt.
“This was immediately flagged to ensure religious neutrality at future Council inaugurations.”
In fact, most of the municipalities, 69.5 per cent, responded to this call, according to the BCHA release about the report. Of those who responded to emailed letters, 68.7 percent stated that they would take the report under advisement or review current procedures.
The City of Langley passed a resolution confirming their receipt of the BCHA letter.
The Supreme Court’s landmark decision was issued in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay
Of the prayers, report found that all were delivered by members of the Christian clergy, 73.9 per cent of whom were men.
According to the National Household Survey in 2011, 44.6 per cent of British Columbians identified as Christian, while 44.1 per cent had no religious affiliation.
The report talks about the democratic imperative of separating church and state.
Municipalities beginning 2018 council sessions with prayers:
100 Mile House
The City of Langley
The Township of Langley
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