Group lobbies to drop daily prayer at BC legislature

Group lobbies to drop daily prayer at BC legislature
WatchEvery day at the Legislature, an MLA rises and offers a prayer of their choice before the start of business. But one organization wants to end the practice, calling it discriminatory and antiquated. Mary Griffin reports.

On Oct. 6, 2003, Legislative Assembly of British Columbia proceedings were on videotape.

And for the first time, the speaker announces a prayer, on this occasion by Liberal MLA Randy Hawes.

“The member for Maple Ridge Mission will lead us in prayer,” then Deputy Speaker Bill Barisoff said.

“As Canadians and British Columbians, we give thanks for the precious gifts of freedom and peace which we all enjoy. As members of this legislative assembly,” Hawes read.

The first videotaped prayer in B.C.’s legislature is a prayer to start the business. It’s a 600-year-old parliamentary tradition that started in England and has carried on in Victoria.

But the B.C. Humanist Association wants this tradition to end.  Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff said the practice continues only because of parliamentary privilege.

“There shouldn’t be prayer in the legislature. It’s a discriminatory, antiquated practice that takes up valuable MLA time. And excludes a lot of people,” Bondaroff said.

The association says too often politics sneak into the prayer, as it did when Liberal MLA Kevin Kruger delivered the prayer after a strike by hospital workers in 2010.

“We pray for the HEU members as they come back to work, that you bless the outcome of this and we’ll soon be able to restore services needed by patients in BC,” Kruger said.

The House of Commons starts the day with a prayer. And eight provinces hold some form of prayer. Some British Columbians think prayer belongs in the legislature

But the current practice is under review in Victoria, according to the Chief of Staff to the Speaker Alan Mullen.

“What is being looked at is how diverse they are. And make sure they are as diverse as possible to be inclusive to every British Columbian,” Mullen said.

In May 2010, NDP MLA Nicholas Simons rose in the house to deliver a message through the prayer.

“Let us work hard for the people of British Columbia, and let us remember the importance of separation of church and state,” Simons said.

The association asking people to write their MLA to end the practice and to make the legislature more inclusive and less discriminatory.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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