British Columbia

Separating church and state: B.C. Legislative Assembly daily prayers receive minor tweak

After a letter writing campaign arguing the prayers were antiquated and discriminatory, the legislative assembly voted unanimously to change the daily practice to "prayers and reflections."

The customary prayers delivered at the start of each daily sitting are now called 'prayers and reflections'

The British Columbia Legislature is reflected in the waters of Victoria harbour in 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Starting next year, members of the B.C. Legislative Assembly will begin each day with "prayers and reflections," rather than just "prayers."

The change to the long held custom was spearheaded by the B.C. Humanist Association, which launched a letter writing campaign arguing that setting aside time every day for a prayer was antiquated, discriminatory and should be eliminated altogether.

The motion, put forward by government house leader Mike Farnworth received unanimous support on the final day of the fall session.

The change may seems minor at best, but the executive director of the B.C. Humanist Association says it is still a victory.

"This is a step forward for an institution that is often incredibly reluctant to change," said Ian Bushfield.

Earlier this year, researchers examined 15 years of legislature prayers and found them to be overwhelmingly religious, and the majority of time Christian in nature. 

The B.C. Legislative Assembly voted unanimously to change the daily prayers to 'prayers and reflections.' (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"Government prayers are not inclusive of the overwhelming majority of British Columbians who are not religious," said researcher Ranil Prasad. "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." 

Prasad said his group is still asking for the prayer to be eliminated.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that public political institutions should remain religiously neutral and "neither favour nor hinder any particular belief."

However, legislative assemblies like B.C.s are protected by parliamentary privilege and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the courts.

According to its website, The B.C. Humanist Association is a registered charity that provides community and a voice for humanists, atheists, agnostics and the non-religious of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia.

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