You’ve probably heard by now that the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld – unanimously – a ban on using prayer in the opening ceremony of the Saguenay municipal council meetings. Other municipalities are taking note, and today there is a flurry of town councils dropping their pre-meeting spell-casting.
This is a good thing. The Court’s logic is sound: the government is supposed to remain neutral in matters of religion and holding prayers is decidedly NOT neutral.
The Christian Oppressed ™ are already coming out of the woodwork, asking for tolerance of prayer, or reminding non-Christians that they could excuse themselves from the prayers. So with that in mind, I felt I should set the record straight on a few things.
A1: Absolutely not. Anyone is free to pray on their own time in a non-disruptive way. Pray in a council meeting if you like. Or don’t. The neat thing is that now there’s actually a choice, and people who choose not to pray aren’t banished to the hall while the government casts Christian spells as part of a government action. If prayer makes you comfortable as a member of the public or as a member of government, then do it – you’re free to do so. What you can’t do is MAKE OTHER PEOPLE DO IT.
A2: First off, it’s not just atheists that get disrespected by government prayers. In the Saguenay case, it was a Roman Catholic Christian ceremony. And while it’s true that most of the people in Saguenay may well count themselves as Catholics, there is certainly a large body that is not, and of those, they’re not all atheists. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s all about those damned atheists…
It seems pretty clear to me that in a free and democratic society, it’s wrong to make anyone wait outside a public government meeting in a public government place while the government performs a decidedly exclusive, religious ceremony. The very existence of the ceremony sends a message that the government favours one religion over others, and if you’re not of that religion, you’re second-class. That’s why it would be wrong for the government to send Christians out to the hall to pray, and why it’s wrong for the government to send atheists out to the hall while Christians pray. If you’re a Christian reading this, say an invocation prayer from the Church of Satan right now. Won’t do it because I ask you to? How about if they mayor asks you to? How about if the mayor asks you to, and tells you that if it bothers you, just leave and come back later? That’s how the Saguenay situation looks to everyone who is not a Christian, and is exactly the issue the SCC was dealing with.
In any case, no atheists were asking to have prayer banned from the planet. As noted above, people who want to pray can do so, but they can keep it to themselves. For Christians, that’s what Jesus wanted anyway (Matthew 6:5-7). Atheists are happy to let you pray. They just aren’t happy when the government makes them pray. That is what “tolerance” means.
A3: Because it’s not taking away any individual rights. The ruling takes away the right of a government body to favour a religion or force a religious ceremony on people. The ruling is supporting the individual rights of citizens not to have their government forcing religion on them.
If you happen to be a member of the favoured religion, you lose no rights at all. What you lose is a special privilege of government that was making OTHER people second-class citizens in favour of your personal beliefs.
Even the mayor of Saguenay still has the right to pray until his heart’s content. What he can’t do is make other people pray or tell them to sod off until the prayer is done. That doesn’t make the mayor a second-class citizen, but it does mean that all the people who don’t pray, for whatever their reason, are now equal in the eyes of government… which is as it should be!
Canada is not the USA and I’d like to think we can be more sensible about the whole issue. Nevertheless, the rhetoric is starting to ramp up, which is sad.