To Pray or Not to Pray?

ThinkstockPhotos-77746967The Canadian Supreme Court’s unanimous mid-April ruling banning prayers before city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec, has stirred up quite a debate across the country. Many municipalities believe the decision is now of the law of land and are following suit. Others are suspending the practice and taking time to debate the matter, and some are ignoring the ruling all together. There are a number of different alternatives being considered.

The Lord’s Prayer

Over the years, many municipal meetings have begun with the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. This tradition likely evolved out of Canada’s Anglican and Roman Catholic heritage. However, today the country is much more spiritually diverse. It is difficult to dispute the religious sentiment of the text which reads:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name; thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

House of Commons Prayer

In 1927, the House of Commons formalized the practice of opening sessions with its own prayer. There have been some changes made to the wording over time. The current language was implemented in 1994 and is still being used today. The House of Common is independent from the country’s judicial branch and does not have to adhere to Supreme Court rulings, unless the representatives choose to do so. The House of Commons prayer is recited before the public is allowed in chambers and TV cameras turned on. It reads as follows:

“Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen”

Generic Invocation

Another option is for municipalities to agree on a nonreligious “invocation.” One that has been proposed by Owen Sound, Ontario resident Terri Hope is:

“As we approach our work here today, may we be mindful of our role as leaders in Owen Sound, a city of great beauty and opportunity. As we face our decisions, may we be guided by strong ethics, wisdom, fairness and sound knowledge. May we never forget the trust placed in us by the people of Owen Sound.”

Observe a Moment of Silence

A number of city councils opted prior to the April 15 Supreme Court decision to have a moment of silence instead of a prayer. This alternative appears to be gaining steam after the ruling. Some municipalities have adopted the practice as an interim step while they consider the implications and alternatives to the recent ruling. Observing a moment of silence can allow time for personal, independent reflection, regardless of one’s religious beliefs.

Skip It Altogether

There are some municipalities that believe that the Canadian Supreme Court is the ultimate authority of these matters, and the affairs of church and state should be separate. They have chosen to eliminate prayers, and anything comparable, and get straight to the business at hand. Over time, it is possible forgoing a prayer, invocation or moment of silence will become standard practice.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s April 15 decision to ban prayers before city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec, is bound to have a wide-ranging impact. It remains to be seen what the specific ramifications will be.

Winnipeg Police Promote Prayer

Universal Life Church, prayer, CanadaTurning to citizens to help address their city’s crime rate, Winnipeg chief of police Devon Clunis recently called for a rather unorthodox civic action: prayer. Prayer, Clunis suggested, might be an answer to Winnipeg’s crime problem, and he asked that citizens of all faiths consider participating. As an interfaith organization, the Universal Life Church finds Clunis’s regard for diversity and respect for multiple faiths very encouraging, but there is an even more crucial opportunity at play here.

It’s important to understand the psychological process of prayer, regardless of an individual’s religious beliefs. What happens when a person prays? There’s obviously an issue at hand, be it a plea for assistance or an expression of apprehension or appreciation. Prayer encourages an internal dialogue, promoting meditation and focused thinking. The participant automatically begins to internalize his or her own goals and intentions, and the appeal at hand benefits from thoughts targeted on action.

Chief Clunis’s prayer request has the ability to reset civilian minds. His call doesn’t imply that people should pray and wash their hands of civic duty. Instead, his appeal may actually encourage positive thought processes that appeal to basic tenets of civilian behavior.

It’s hard to see the harm in that, but there has been some resistance to the idea from both non-religious and religious citizens, who may find Clunis’s prayer request to be an inappropriate insertion of spirituality into civic government. Where does the Universal Life Church stand on this debate? We are universal champions of freedom of religion and freedom from religion, but we see no forceful measures being taken by this simple request.

Has the chief of police declared martial law, insisting that residents pray or else? This is clearly not the case, and he has taken the additional step of embracing the freedom to pray to any religious head. No one is being strong-armed into participating, nor is anyone being rewarded for praying or punished for not praying. Beyond this obvious alignment with our position, we see an added opportunity to eliminate negativity.

Clunis’s detractors appear to be merely naysayers at this point, with no valid counterpoints or tangible alternatives to alleviating crime in Winnipeg. In fact, these individuals might be better off attempting to see the potential value in this proposition. Is Winnipeg’s crime rate going to plummet if even a portion of the population responds to Clunis’s appeal? Perhaps not, but the end result is a larger group of citizens with their minds turned to the basics: responsibility, action and a sense of right and wrong.