Did you know the Speaker of the House of Commons in Ottawa recites this prayer every day before Parliament opens?
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.
I started exploring how Canadian politicians officially acknowledge the divine after the recent religious kerfuffle in the United States. Pat Conroy the chaplain for the American Congress was asked to resign by speaker Paul Ryan. There are conflicting reports about why the resignation was requested, and Conroy has since withdrawn it. In the Washington Post writer Rachel Laser argues there shouldn’t even be a congressional chaplain. Given the diversity of the American religious landscape she finds it absurd a Christian male has always served in the post. She suggests taxpayer money shouldn’t subsidize the promotion of a certain faith in the House of Representatives.
While the American Congress has a paid, elected chaplain who opens all sessions with prayer, I could find no evidence our House of Commons or the Manitoba Legislature have official chaplains. I did discover however daily sessions of Canada’s Parliament open with prayer, the prayer at the beginning of this article.
Searching through documents for the Manitoba Legislature I found written records for each session showing they open with prayer as well, but it doesn’t say what kind of prayer it is or who prays it.
In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that while politicians had a right to worship privately as they saw fit, public meetings in which they were serving in an official role, could not open with prayer. Ironically the ruling only applies to municipal governments because federal and provincial governments have special immunities. Parliamentary privileges granted in 1689 allow the House of Commons and provincial legislatures ultimate authority over the day-to-day operations of their government bodies. That’s why prayers are still said there despite the Supreme Court ruling.
Although I think we need to be very careful about the separation of church and state I personally don’t object to parliamentary or legislative sessions opening with prayer. But I think those prayers should reflect the religious diversity of our country. Perhaps this could be done by eliminating phrases like ‘Almighty God’ or ‘Amen’ from the Parliamentary prayer or inviting clergy from different faith traditions in Canada to come in each day and say a prayer in keeping with their religious beliefs. Perhaps representatives from the major religious groups in our country could compose a more generic prayer that is inclusive and highlights the common threads between all the religions practiced in Canada.
The issue is obviously a political hot potato. Following the Supreme Court ruling about political prayer in 2015 Justin Trudeau said it was important to respect the court’s decision, but since coming to power he has chosen not to comment on the issue only saying that the Parliamentary committee in charge of House procedures has responsibility for the matter.
I think our politicians probably need all the prayers they can get, but whether those prayers should be said aloud in the Legislature and Parliament, and what the nature of those prayers should be, is a question for further public discussion.