On Wednesday, April 15th, the Supreme Court of Canada passed down a decision that stated that reciting prayers at the start of municipal council meetings were a violation of Charter rights.
For those who didn’t just take the citizenship test, Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
The important part here is the freedom of conscience and religion. What the Supreme Court decided was that saying a prayer in a municipal meeting goes against the freedom of conscience and religion. In other words, if the prayer is a Christian prayer and there are councillors who are not Christian, their Rights and Freedoms are being violated.
On the surface this appears to be a an over-reach by the Supreme Court. Should they really be able to enforce this? Put it this way, if the majority of the city council was Muslim, would there be any complaints if the prayers were Islamic? There would obviously be an out-cry and much wringing of hands. What about a Hebrew prayer? Hindu?
The Supreme Court has to weigh their decisions based on all of Canada, and therefore takes all information and data into account. Just because a small municipality is over overwhelmingly Caucasian in make-up and and Christian in religion, the ruling applies to them just as it does to a mainly Sikh council in Toronto.
Since 1991 Canada’s population has grown from 27 million to 33 million and during that time, the percentage of the population who identify themselves as Christian, be it Catholic, Baptist of Presbyterian has dropped from 85% to 67%. All the while, those who claim no religious affiliation has doubled in number as have those of other religions such as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish. The only other religion that has dropped in number has been those claiming to be Jedi Knights.
There is a tendency to look at the ruling and claim that it is prosecuting Christians for their belief but the Supreme Court cannot create one rule for one and one rule for another. What affects Christians also affects other religions equally.
The truth about Canada is that it is becoming more and more multi cultural, something that is incredible given how much of a mixing bowl Canada already is. The number of those practising a certain religion will always fluctuate. It is part of what makes Canada so amazing. It embraces newcomers and welcomes them, rather than demanding they change their ways in order to fit in.
At the end of the day, the Supreme Courts ruling is a reinforcement of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that document that continues to keep everything equal to everyone.
If a city council wants to reinstate prayer before meetings then the only fair thing to do would be to rotate the religion of the prayer and also make sure that there are meetings without a prayer. Only then should religion be brought back into the council chambers.