City council prayer tradition violates rights, Winnipeg man says
Prayer procedures amended in 2015 following Supreme Court decision, but that's not enough for atheist
A Winnipeg man says he plans to file a human rights complaint against the City of Winnipeg for allowing prayers to be read before council meetings.
West End resident Tony Governo said he's in the preliminary process of filing a complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission about the council prayer, which is read by a different councillor before each monthly meeting.
While the readings are usually generic if not outright atheist in nature — councillors typically ask for the wisdom to make good decisions — Governo said the city ought to call them something else.
"They do call it a prayer. If they call it a pledge and they have the same wording, I have no problem with it whatsoever, but as long as they call it a prayer, I have a problem with it," he said in a telephone interview.
Governo wrote to Mayor Brian Bowman and members of council earlier in September, asking them to discontinue the prayer in accordance with a Supreme Court of Canada decision regarding public prayer,
In response, council speaker Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) wrote in an email that council changed the way a prayer is read before council in 2015, following the Supreme Court decision.
City lawyers reviewed the decision and found prayer could still be permitted, Sharma wrote.
"At meetings of council, each councillor, in a monthly rotation, would be given the opportunity to recite a new non-denominational invocation, or an invocation of their choosing, including a meditation or moment of silence. Notably, the non-denominational invocation does not reference the words 'God' or 'The Lord,' " Sharma wrote.
"Councillors are free to say what they feel is appropriate. Often councillors read a prayer from different religions, in tribute and recognition of their ward citizens' many faiths, or recite words of wisdom from philosophical traditions, again often recognizing the ethnic diversity of their wards.
"By following this open practice, councillors are honouring the multi-ethnic diversity of our great city and are not bound by any one religion. By ensuring inclusivity, that we recognize all religions and faiths, and maintaining neutrality, council has ensured that it is in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling."
The mayor said he hasn't heard any concern about the prayer from any member of council, all of whom are free to express themselves in any manner they choose during the monthly reading.
"That includes being inclusive of those who wish to express themselves through a religious lens," Bowman said.