Saskatchewan

Group wants opening prayer at Sask. Legislature dropped

A number of people are set to formally ask the province to end the practice of having an opening prayer at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

A moment of silence would be better, group says

David Richards, a member of the Regina Centre for Inquiry, wants the province to adopt practices that are secular, where there is a distinct separation of church and state. (Dean Gutheil/CBC)

A number of people are set to formally ask the province to end the practice of having an opening prayer at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

The use of Christian-based prayers in public institutions has been a source of debate, especially following a Supreme Court of Canada decision in April 2015.

In Regina, a group met Saturday — at a conference called Shift to Reason — to discuss the issue and its plan to present a petition.

"People should be allowed to worship as they [see] fit [and] have a religion as they see fit, regardless of what the government tells them is appropriate," David Richards, a Saskatchewan member of Centre for Inquiry Canada, said. "No one is saying that Christians can't practice their own faith, or Muslims or Hindus or any religion there is. We're fine with people practicing their own faith, but where we start to have concerns is when people come along and tell others what they should or shouldn't believe."

When the issue arose in 2015, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall noted that legal advice, from the province's Ministry of Justice, suggests that the Supreme Court ruling did not apply to provincial legislatures.

We don't want the government telling the people of this province how to pray.- David Richards

Wall also told reporters that he had not received any complaints about how a prayer is used before the start of business in the legislature.

Richards said their petition provides a response to that.

"We're taking Mr. Wall at his word: he said, 'No one's asked us to stop' so we've gathered a whole bunch of people together and we're asking him to stop [the prayer]," Richards said.

"We have pastors, Christian pastors, who have signed this petition," he added. "[They] have said, 'We are devout in our faith but we don't want the government telling the people of this province how to pray.'"

Richards added that the solution should not be to expand the number of religions referenced in an opening prayer.

"There's two problems with that," he said. "One is you'll have a two-hour prayer session before every legislative session as you go through each one of them. And number two: I still don't want to force someone to say something they don't believe."

Richards said the legislature should be neutral and simply observe a moment of silence.

The group is planning a demonstration Sunday morning (starting at 9:30) in front of the legislative building in Regina.

They'll leave their petition with a security person, who they expect will forward it to the premier's office on Monday.

With files from CBC's Dean Gutheil and The Canadian Press

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