Edmonton City council suspends tradition of prayers before meetings
Debate over practice of praying before council meetings still to come
The long-standing tradition of praying before each Edmonton council meeting has come to an end.
Council voted to suspend its usual prayer service until June, while administration reviews the implications of a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled against religion in municipal meetings.
In a unanimous decision, the court said the practice of starting municipal meetings in Saguenay, Que., with a Catholic prayer was an infringement of freedom of religion and conscience rights.
"The state must instead remain neutral in this regard," the judgement read.
Instead of the usual prayer, council began its meeting Tuesday with a moment of silence.
Mayor Don Iveson said he's frustrated by what he called a "wide" Supreme Court decision.
"I understand why they ruled against one faith tradition in one council chamber, where the prayer was led by the mayor," Iveson said. "I can see how that would be alienating for members of the public, or even council who are from a different faith tradition."
But Iveson said what Edmonton council did with pre-meeting prayers was much more inclusive. Unlike Saguenay, Edmonton's council invites many faiths to bring greetings and prayers to City Hall.
In the last year, however, only six of 20 prayers were non-Christian.
Coun. Michael Walters, Bryan Anderson, and Mike Nickel all voted against the suspension of prayer.
"It was more of a protest vote," Walters said. "I think it's an important conversation. I value the way that we did it. I don't think it's offensive."
Councillors will have another chance to debate the issue at an upcoming executive committee meeting.