StarPhoenix, JUNE 7, 2012
The City of Saskatoon should offer a “moment of reflection” instead of Christian prayers at civic events so citizens aren’t excluded from celebrations, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
In a letter to Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison, the association calls for the end to Christian prayers at city-sponsored events and suggests the city allow a moment of reflection to be more inclusive to religious and non-religious people. The letter is in support of a recent complaint from a citizen over a prayer a civic event.
“(It) was inappropriate for the city to allow for this prayer to be conducted under its auspices,” wrote Sheetal Rawal, an articling fellow at the association. “The event was ostensibly a secular and public one; a dinner to which volunteers were invited by the city to celebrate their contributions to civic life.
“Recitation of a Christian prayer at a municipal event could send the message — and it appears that it did to at least one attendee in this case — that Christian citizens are more valued or more welcome than others.”
In April, Ashu Solo, a member of the city’s volunteer cultural diversity and race relations committee, took issue with a Christian prayer delivered by Coun. Randy Donauer at a City of Saskatoon volunteer appreciation dinner. He says the prayer discriminated against non-Christians and has submitted a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. The complaint has sparked national media attention and ongoing debate about the role of prayer at government events.
Solo said he is still waiting to hear from the human rights commission to find out if the complaint will proceed to mediation, but is happy with the support from the civil liberties association.
However, Solo said he disagrees that a moment of silence or reflection is the answer.
“At first I advocated a moment of silence as an alternative to prayer, but upon further reflection I believe a moment of silence is also an effort by the government to get people to pray,” Solo said. “It’s definitely better, but I think it still violates the separation of religion and government. I think if people want to pray before they eat they can take their own moment of silence. There’s nothing stopping them. I don’t think there should be an official, specific moment of silence.”
Atchison and Donauer declined to comment because the case is before the human rights commission.
“We’ll see how it all plays out,” Atchison said.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association was founded in 1964. The letter to Atchison pointed out that the association’s board members adhere to a variety of faiths and has also defended the rights of Canadians to practice their religions.
But religious liberty also includes the freedom from religion, Rawal wrote.
“This message marginalizes those who adhere to other religions or ideologies, including individuals who do not believe in a supreme force or have a conscientious objection to religion,” Rawal writes.
“The public recitation of a prayer effectively forces on those who object, the unpleasant choice of having to sit through a prayer (or feign participation) against their will, religion or conscience, or face the embarrassment or stigma of having to walk out during it.”