Like most places in Canada, Mississauga is a diverse community with a substantial number of nonbelievers and a substantial number of non-Christians. Prayer has no place in a secular society and beginning a City Council meeting with prayer sends out all the wrong messages. Imagine that you are a nonbeliever waiting to petition City Council over some grievance and you have to watch your council member praying before you can speak.
I have no idea which council members are religious and what religion they prefer but it doesn't matter. Even if all of them are devoutly religious it's still not proper for them to begin meetings with a prayer. You'd think that would be obvious to any intelligent adult in Canada in the 21st century.
Prayer in Canadian Public Spaces?, a lecture by Lauren Forbes sponsored by the Canadian Secular Alliance and supported by the Centre for Inquiry, Canada.
The vast majority of governments in Ontario have recognized what's right and proper in a secular society and they do not mix prayer or other expressions of religion belief with public service. Fortunately, when some city councils refuse to do what is ethical and proper we have courts that hopefully will bring them to their senses.
This issue was decided by the Court of Appeal of Ontario back in September, 1999 in a case involving the recital of the Lord's prayer at city council meetings in Penetanguishene. The court ruled that reciting the Lord's prayer is unconstitutional. Here's the judgement ...
The practice of the Town of Penetanguishene and of the Mayor of opening the Town Council and committee meetings by asking the councillors to rise and recite with him the Lord’s Prayer infringes the appellant’s Charter right to freedom of religion under s. 2(a) and cannot be saved under s. 1. The appellant is entitled to a remedy under s. 24(1) of the Charter.While this decision refers specifically to the Lord's prayer—an overtly Christian prayer—it's clear from the ruling that any form of religious prayer will also be unconstitutional.
The appeal is therefore allowed. The judgment below is set aside and judgment is granted declaring that the practice of the Town is unconstitutional and enjoining the Town Council from continuing to require or permit the Lord’s Prayer to be recited by members of Council at the commencement of its meetings. The appellant shall have his costs both here and below.
It's surprising that some city councils insist on behaving badly but it's even more surprising that they insist on breaking the law once their bad behaviour has been shown to be not only unethical, but also illegal.
There are several additional complaints before the courts and they will undoubtedly result in the same decision and the awarding of costs and penalties. I'm hoping Veronica Abbas will give us an update on her lawsuit and others she might know about. Meanwhile, if you live in Mississauga you should write to your city councilor and urge them to obey both the law and their civic duty. I have contacted my councilor, Katie Mahoney, and she supports the mayor and the prayer.
If you hear from your councilor let me know what their position is. You can send me an email or add a comment below.
1.Mississauga is just west of Toronto. It's the 6th largest city in Canada with a population of >700,000.
2. Hazel is 93 years old. She has been mayor since 1978.