In Ontario, it has been the practice of the legislative assembly to recite the Lord's Prayer prior to engaging in the business of state. The Premier has struck an all-party committee to evaluate whether this practice should be continued and the committee has asked for public submissions. I prepared the following draft submission on behalf of the Canadian Secular Alliance. It will no doubt be tweaked before submission, by the group, but it represents my thoughts on the matter.
SUBMISSION TO THE ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE REVIEWING THE LORD’S PRAYER
May 1, 2008
Submitted by the Canadian Secular Alliance
The Canadian Secular Alliance is an association of people dedicated to the advancement of secularism in public institutions.
We welcome the opportunity to offer this brief submission to the Committee.
1. Need for Prayer
While there may be members of the provincial legislature who are devout followers of religions it is not clear why it is necessary to occupy the time of the legislative sessions reciting scripture, of any sort. Members can pray in their homes, in their cars, on airplanes, in their offices, or wherever, and will no doubt receive precisely the same attention and guidance from the deity or deities, as the case may be, that they would receive by collectively standing, bowing their heads in the chamber and verbalizing holy incantations.
There is no evidence to suggest that harmonized recitation of biblical passages by a multitude grants benefits not otherwise obtainable by individual prayer. There is also no evidence to suggest that the abandonment of this ritual would lead to debates and decisions in the chamber that are less than they should be without divine intervention.
In short, unless the committee can find a reason why the valuable time of those on the public payroll that should be devoted to the interests and welfare of the people of Ontario should instead be spent appealing to deities, the best solution would be to drop the thing entirely.
2. The Lord’s Prayer
This is originally a Jewish prayer that has, by custom, become associated with Christians and is now considered very much a Christian prayer. Cleary, the demographic changes in Ontario in the last 25 years would suggest that Christianity is becoming not “the religion”, but simply one of many. Even with Christianity there is a veritable Babel of differences. There are approximately 31,200 verses in the King James’ version of the Bible, but there are 38,000 Christian sects and denominations differentiating themselves from the others by emphasizing some verses of scripture to the exclusion or in preference to others.
It seems inappropriate to continue a Christian prayer to the exclusion of other religions, and since there are many sects with different creeds and dogmatic viewpoints, it is unlikely that some common prayer will cover all the bases. How could one reconcile polytheistic religions with monotheistic ones, with animists, pagans, wiccans, let alone Satanists and Scientologists?
Trying to appear even-handed in some fashion to all of these religions is a Pandora’s Box, best left out of the legislative chamber.
3. The Manner of Prayer
Collectively praying in a house of worship dedicated to holy and sacred rituals is one thing, but when prayer occurs outside of these places, particularly when reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one needs to consider Matthew 6:6. Matthew says very clearly that public prayer is hypocrisy and that the Lord’s Prayer should be recited in private. So, if the committee decides after all to recommend sustaining the Christian character of the prayer, at least perform it in accordance with Biblical rules and let the members do it in the privacy of their offices.
It is also worth considering, with respect to Christianity, that Jesus prescribed that the faithful should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” He reportedly drove the money changers out of the temple to ensure this result. Does it not seem reasonable to observe this separation at Queen’s Park, which majestic as it may be, is not a temple, but is more akin to a money-changing bourse?
If the answer is to recite prayers from different religions in some rotational fashion one might want to consider the rules of those creeds regarding the appropriate manner of prayer: rules regarding the wearing of headgear, ritual washing prior to prayer, the separation of men from women, and praying in kneeling positions with foreheads pressed to the floor.
4. The Non-religious
Always the last to be considered, and when considered, not often with much respect, are the estimated 18% of the population, and growing, that have no interest in religion and would like to see the public prayer in the legislature abandoned because its continuation is a violation of the eminently sensible liberal-democratic rule of separating church and state. You may take it that the CSA speaks for this constituency, one that pays taxes, votes and has equal civil and human rights under the laws of this province and country, just exactly like the most religiously devout.
5. Messages from the people and the courts
It is widely believed that the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party initiative to fund Catholic Separate Schools led to the end of the continuous 42 years of PC government in this province, even though the other political parties signed up for it. The most recent election saw the PCs lose badly once again over proposed policies to mix religion and schools. The courts have outlawed prayer in schools and in municipal councils.
At some point, and this is as good a time as any, members of the legislature might reflect on the clear messages that are being sent from the factories, fields, farms and the courts, and get on board with the broader public view that public space and public institutions ought to be devoted to secular concerns and should not be used for the promotion of religion in any manner.