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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Canada bans prayers at city council meetings

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that prayers at the opening of city council meetings are not consistent with a secular society [Quebec town can’t have prayers at council meetings, top court rules].

The Supreme Court decision is at: Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City). The decision appears to be unanimous (9:0) provided I'm reading it correctly.
The state’s duty of religious neutrality results from an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion. The evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of this neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard, which means that it must neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non‑belief. The pursuit of the ideal of a free and democratic society requires the state to encourage everyone to participate freely in public life regardless of their beliefs. A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society. The state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non‑believers in public life to the detriment of others. If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality. The Tribunal was therefore correct in holding that the state’s duty of neutrality means that a state authority cannot make use of its powers to promote or impose a religious belief. Contrary to what the Court of Appeal suggested, the state’s duty to remain neutral on questions relating to religion cannot be reconciled with a benevolence that would allow it to adhere to a religious belief.
This seems so obvious to most people that it's a wonder why anyone ever thought that reciting prayers at city council meetings was justified.

Now, let's see how long it takes for other cities to stop the practice.

Hat Tip: Canadian Atheist


  1. I'm a believer but I have trouble seeing why Christians fight this battle. There are numerous reasons why I think this practice is futile but this jumps out

    Matthew 6:5 NIV

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

    1. Hey Beau,

      I never thought I would say this, but I'm in complete agreement with your claim that most Christians are hypocrites.

      What I don't understand is why you couldn't figure this out on your own but instead had to get your instructions from a book of goat herder snuff porn.

      Leviticus 20:10

      And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

      Killed any adulterers lately ?

    2. The few times ones gets the chance to say to Beau Stoddard, "I'm in complete agreement with your claim", one could stop right there and let a moment of friendly feelings linger.

    3. Out of respectI won't turn the professors blog into an exercise in apologetics. If you'd like to discuss your concerns feel free to email at

    4. Well I think it's awfully magnanimous of Beau Stoddard to allow the citizens of our secular democracy to conduct their business with their government free of incantations, supplications and just general grovelling to his invisible friend.

      And all because he received a coded message from said invisible friend ordering him to do so.

      Though how he knew that this particular message was to be treated literally and how he knows with absolute surety all those other messages that are to treated allegorically is beyond me.

      So if I show a distinct lack of "friendly feelings" it's because it's not within his remit to grant this hard won right in the first place and the fact that this has happened, has happened despite all the best efforts of people like Beau Stoddard to contaminate the marketplace of ideas with his irrational belief system.

      I mean seriously, what's next, a hearty exchange of good feelings with the local homophobe who has discovered that the social cost of his bigotry is too high and has grudgingly "allowed" homosexuals to equal treatment under the law ?

    5. You seem angry Steve, why is that? I don't allow anyone to do anything nor do I have the power to prohibit anyone from anything. I'm honest enough to recognize the hypocrisy Christians often display. You don't get to pick and choose which sins are acceptable as a Christian. Many Christians target homosexuality yet ignore the divorce rates in the Christian population. Whether you believe Jesus was a regular guy, Son of God or a fictional character the teachings attributed to him are solid. People can abuse any type of knowledge as they choose. As I said before I'm not interested in this conversation in this arena,. You have my info if you'd like to carry on.

    6. “Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”

      ― Christopher Hitchens

    7. Steve, give him a break. He's trying to be nice. Hitchens had a nasty streak too.

      Now, one might wish that his reasons for disapproving of publicly sponsored prayer were less about hypocrisy and more about respecting a secular society. But just accept his agreement.

    8. Thanks John. Steve I actually liked Hitchens he made some good arguments. I just ordered his brothers book to see what kind of insight he gives on his Christopher.

    9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. You are correct, it is a unanimous decision. Also known as a "no-brainer."

    On CBC they said that other municipalities are having their lawyers review the decision, but it's hard to see what should be unclear about this. You wrote a post about a year ago on Mississauga City Council opening their sessions with a prayer. I can't see that practice continuing, if it is still going on.

  3. Professor Moran I'd like to apologize for my behaviour on your blog. I take offense when people take shots at my religion and haven't taken the time to understand it. I've realized that me being scientifically illiterate and questioning you on science isn't appropriate.

  4. Larry, I've noticed that you didn't comment on the decision by the supreme court. Do you consider this ruling as a win for atheism? Science? Or maybe for the struggling theory of evolution that needs a new spark so that more people can pay more attention to it?

    I'm sorry but I'm just clueless as to why you would post a blog and then wouldn't comment on it as to what the relevance it has to the mainly scientific blog you have been running for few years.

    1. Pest says,

      I'm sorry but I'm just clueless ...

      That's the most intelligent thing you've said in the last month or so. Why don't you just read and learn for the next month instead of showing us how little you know?

    2. Larry,

      I hope, and your faithful might, might not, but I personally hope that this answer is a pure retaliation for my exposing your drift failure.

  5. This is a anti christian decision by a incompetent and intrusive court in canadian life. Just another immoral and illegal decision.
    Simnply the court is stopping the people from deciding these things.
    They are denying our historic right and heritage to our prayers.
    They are being tyrants over the people.
    Its not democratic but opposed to it obviously.
    Why claim democracy when its dictatorship?
    Many wrong concepts here.
    They are not teaching practicing neutrality but are not netral. They are stopping a historic practice. whence the neutrality.
    They invoke multiculturalism to overthrow Canadian rights. The country is not multicultural in its rights and freedoms. Its a country of a common citzenship. not multi.
    The prayer is not stopping anyone from anything. Hogwash excuse.
    I don't care much about prayers but I insist this immoral and illegal court has no authority to rule the people.
    Its completely within our laws to have prayers. no one made a contray law and using the constitution to do so is illegal, immoral, incompetent and shows the selection of judges is suspicious.
    If anti-religious people want prayer out then do it democratically as if the people matter.
    Not by dictatorship.
    The people never agreed to a law to ban us making laws about prayer in school.
    This is a anti Christian decision and anti- freedom decision.
    It must be revoked.
    right and wrong answers must come from the people and not a few judges.
    they are not to be our masters . it makes us slaves.
    HOWEVER i like it because it discredits this court.

    by the way. doesn't teaching evolution and banning creationism count as state hindering of the peoples faith???
    Of coarse it does.

    Do not obey this court. They can't rule a free people.

  6. Larry:

    What lutesuite said. The decision was 9-0 against prayer. Madam Justice Abella's opinion is a concurrence; while she agrees with the result, she thinks that the reasoning in the majority's opinion might confuse lower courts reviewing decisions of specialist tribunals in other cases as to the proper standard of review.

    Since it is the Supreme Court of Canada that has spoken, other cities will now say prayers at their peril.

    Pest is aptly-named. Anyone with half a brain who's studied evolution knows it's true. Apart from a few nutbar politicians, anyone whose opinion matters accepts the reality of evolution.

    Robert Byer's comment embarrasses him. Canada is a constitutional monarchy. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It gives the Supreme Court the authority, the right and power, to mandate that government actions are constitutional and do not infringe the right of all Canadians, including non-Christian Canadians, to be treated equally. Saguenay's clearly were not. If Mr. Byer does not wish to accept the terms of Canada's social contract, a certain course of action suggests itself.

    The teaching of creationism is not banned. Creationism is not taught in science class for one simple and obvious reason: it is not science. Evolution, without which nothing in biology would make sense, conversely, is taught in science class. If reality hinders peoples' faith, well that's too bad for peoples' faith.

  7. I understand the arguments suggesting that Christian prayer infringes upon the rights of people of other faiths or non-believers but I can’t say that is a dominant feeling I experience.

    For me, the dominant feeling I get from witnessing state-sanctioned prayer is one of embarrassment that mature adults would quite seriously and solemnly profess communication with some invisible power, invariably claiming to seek guidance and wisdom from that invisible entity. In addition to embarrassing, I think it is also dangerous to not recognize that one’s thoughts and beliefs are coming solely from the minds of humans.

    In a rational world, this would not be considered normal and the belief that one is in communication with an invisible omnipotent being would be included among the attributes that denies a person the attainment of public office.
    Removing state-sanctioned religious ceremony wherever possible is one step toward realizing a generation of people who do not recognize this behavior as normal, rational and beneficial.

  8. I personally feel this is of a piece with banning the government from foisting religion on public school students under the guise of science.

    I think Dr. Moran might welcome the opportunity to have this "bad science" try to compete in the classroom with better science. I fear there would be about as much opportunity for religion disguised as science to be criticized in a US classroom as there would be for a session of rational criticism of Christianity at Canadian city council meetings. Even if there were, in either case everyone would have gotten the message about on whose side the power of the government lies (pun intended).

    Thus in my view it is best in both cases to permit religion to enter only if there is reasonable assurance the government can and will in fact be neutral in any discussion.

    1. These are separate issues.

      There's no reason for prayer by elected officials in a public meeting.

      On the other hand, there's good reason to teach critical thinking by exposing students to examples of bad science and explaining why it is bad.

      I understand that you don't trust the average teacher to teach effectively but that's another problem that's unrelated to what effective teaching should look like. I suspect that there are lots of things that those teachers can't handle, like history, but that doesn't mean we should abandon the goal of trying to get effective teaching of history into the classroom.

    2. I understand that you don't trust the average teacher to teach effectively

      That isn't what I think or meant to say, so my apologies for the lack of clarity.

      It's possible and perhaps likely that the majority of the general public in a school district where religion in the guise of science (in my view) or bad science (in yours) is taught would feel a religious explanation for the origin of life and species is the correct one. Let's assume (as I believe would be the case) that the vast majority of science teachers in these districts understand evolution is the correct explanation for the existence of species and want to teach it.

      This would mean any teacher who wanted to teach good science in such a district by raising the religious explanation in order to criticize it would be potentially risking career at a minimum, on up through death threats from the community (as happened to the plaintiffs in Dover v. Kitzmiller). People shouldn't have to choose between teaching good science and career, or personal and family safety. Also, in such a situation, kids may well be smart enough to pick up on the fact that the government and the local community disagree with what the teacher is saying (and with whom the power lies in that circumstance, and the potential consequences of defying government and religion intermingled).

      I feel such a scenario is more likely in the US these days than that teachers will feel confident enough to raise creationism as a theory in order to criticize it.

  9. The reason for prayer was by the Christian people, Protestant or Catholic, in upper or lower canada to gain Gods approval for important matters in the community.
    This was a right thing and worked for us.
    In fact to not do this would be foolish and suspicious of hostility to God and the peoples faith.

    The only reason to not have the state involved today, I mean by allowing these minor things in the buildings, is because of a contract between all the citizens.
    We have always reasonably agreed to this and so not press our faith even though we have the right as free people when we made our countries.
    i don't ask for religious stuff newly. in respect to everyone's faith differences.
    This is not why this is a illegal and immoral decision of this court. Itself not legal because they are selected on reasons other then judicial merit.
    This was evilish because it confirmed the court saying the country is ruled by them and so a dictatorship. The constitution trumps the peoples government and historic British right of ruling ourselves.
    The case was only worthy of the legislature. The court dictating a historic denial to a ancient rite was a intrusion into our culture and our religious life and corporation.
    There was no need to attack such a innocent heritage and attackimng in the name of fixed law against the very people who never agreed to such a law and are the only authority behind consent to the constitution.
    Its a vile invention of a anti Christian drive in the establishment.
    I accuse of motives and design to be dictator over my free country.
    This must be revoked.
    No excuses ,and they mentioned a thousand, and no claims to higher motives.
    Its taking the rule from my people by these very worthless and and suspicious layers in black robes.
    I don't care about the prayer but I do about self government, our geritage of faith, and common citizenship.
    Its a cultural, political, legal attack mimicking other court actions.
    the people only decide these things. its not for heavy law powers. its trivial but the decision is monstrous.
    They should say their prayers to save their decisions in ignominy.

    by the way. Isn't teaching evolution and banning creationism HINDERING , meant to for some, ones faith???
    i insist a historic prayer does not but origin stuff might.
    If they were not so lacking in credibility I would say that this issue to court.

    1. Many people know that I am a nonbeliever. Imagine that I were scheduled to appear before city council to complain about one of their decisions. Don't you realize how it makes me feel when all of the members bow their heads and begin the meeting with a Christian prayer? I am obliged to participate in the ceremony even though I don't believe in gods.

      Don't you understand that it is inappropriate for you and your fellow Christians to impose their worship on people who don't share your belief? Try and be a bit more understanding of the views of others—that would be very Christian of you.

      Also, keep in mind that less than half of the people in my city (Mississauga) are practicing Christians.

    2. It'd be interesting to hear how Christian defenders of the idea of a Christian prayer before government sessions would respond if, say, Islamic or other prayers were routinely offered.

      Actually, we don't have to imagine, if the American experience is anything to go by. Their Supreme Court arrived at a somewhat different decision than the Canadian court, ruling that prayers could be allowed so long as all faiths and viewpoints have an equal opportunity to be involved. Yet on some occasions legislators have reacted with outrage or have even walked out when someone who did not share their faith offered an invocation:

      For years, Christians have expected, and been given, respectful silence when they imposed their prayers on others. But they refuse to give the same courtesy when someone else is praying.

    3. Mr Moran.
      Its a free people and its a democracy. Hisatorically and still people wanted a prayer . That was the great majority desire.
      if a minority says NO. then the minority is imposing its will.
      Somebody will be imposing. No way around.
      What you really mean is that the majority should not desire a prayer at all. Then why not the minority desire not to interfere with the majority.
      Its all a rejection of the people, our ancesters, our heritage, and our laws to govern ourselves.
      I don't desire prayers or care. Yet I insist its the peoples decision and not illegal acting judges.
      A prayer is okay and its my side that has gone out of our way to accommodate foreign beliefs or non beliefs.
      Getting rid of innocent heritage and the peoples wish is suspiciously more about shaping society in a non Christian way or rather overthrowing the old way.
      not hurt feelings.
      We are the ones getting the hurt feelings about what we think should be done or like having done.
      Canadians must oppose the courts illegal authority and oppose losing things without our consent. its never the immigrants who want prayers gone by the way. They respect the natives and don't come from non religious countries. They get it.

    4. One of the remarkable achievements of a truly free and honorable society is that it makes an effort to ensure that the rights of minorities are protected from the tyranny of the majority. Your feelings are hurt because you can't impose your religion on others. This proves that you don't understand freedom.

    5. Its only free and honourable if its truly up to the people. Otherwise its not free but dictatorship.
      Its only democratic if it is.
      This was about Judges dictating without legal right..

      There are no minorities or majorities in a nation of equal citizenship rights.
      Min/Maj have no rights in Canada. Only citizens do.
      The tyranny of the majority would always be that where the majority decides. Every elected government would be a majority tyranny. IT is not such.
      Its a democracy where the free people decide by a head count.
      Including if the minority gets its way that would be a tyranny.
      In a free nation someone must decide and it must be the people save in very self evident rights or contracts.
      In this case imposition is coming from Judges on matters the public must decide. In short a minority of a few is imposing its rejection of innocent and historic prayers to God.
      it comes down to who rules Canada.
      This is another decision showing Canada is ruled by Judges. Not the peopler.
      I insist its illegal. It overthrows the British heritage of self government and our contract on the constitution..
      They are not obeying the constitution but inventing things in it clearly never consented by the people when we signed.
      We are obedient but the Judges are not.
      I sincerely believe its a historic tryanny that has come back in the last years or decades.
      We are not governing ourselves on anything important or can.
      As if we signed away our governing by the people.

  10. The mayor of Fredericton NB has just declared he will cease his well-known practise of starting council meetings with a prayer. He is very disappointed, said he would have dug in his heels over the matter if it hadn't been the supreme court, and that he regrets the loss of this practise and its "calming effect" over meetings. Quote:
    "It was a nice part of the meeting. It set the tone, put us in the right frame of mind to conduct the people's business, and now it is against the law." -Daily Gleaner Apr 16, 2015.

  11. If you talk about my personal views, I am against what has happened in one sense. We always used to have prayers in our meeting rooms just before conclusion of meetings but in other ways, it made a lot of sense too!