Why should city council bother praying before meetings? How can public prayer be of any earthly good?

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Why should city council bother praying before meetings? How can public prayer be of any earthly good?

To answer those questions, the Free Press asked people of many faiths who are serious about praying.

Their answers are timely as Winnipeg city council awaits a legal report on the current practice of praying before meeting.

The practice in Winnipeg and other Canadian cities was placed under review after the Supreme Court ruled Saguenay municipal council in Quebec cannot open its meetings with a Catholic prayer. The unanimous decision stated the prayer was "showing a preference for one religion to the detriment of others," and, in doing so, breached religious neutrality of the state.

Winnipeg council does not show a preference for one religion. Rather, councillors in rotation begin meetings with a prayer of their choice. Last week’s meeting, for example, was opened by Coun. Janice Lukes with a secular prayer to remember the victims of the earthquake in Nepal.

While Winnipeg council seeks legal advice on its prayer practice, the Free Press sought spiritual advice. What good is public prayer?

 

Rabbi Alan Green

Rabbi Alan Green

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Rabbi Alan Green

Shaarey Zedek Synagogue

"I think city council could use all the help it can get.

"When you invoke the presence of God, everyone’s thought patterns change for the better.

"People think more coherently in the presence of the source of life."

 

Ihsaan Gardee

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director, National Council of Canadian Muslims

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director, National Council of Canadian Muslims

Executive director, National Council of Canadian Muslims

"It gives an opportunity for people to focus for the day and the task at hand, and the heavy responsibility they have to ensure that they are fulfilling their duties as representatives of their constituents in our democracy.

"What we recommend to other city councils is to consider what the mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, has implemented, which is a moment of private reflection prior to the beginning of city council meetings.

"This would allow those who want to recite prayers to do so while not forcing it upon others who might not be comfortable with public prayer."

 

Archbishop Richard Gagnon

Archbishop Richard Gagnon

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Archbishop Richard Gagnon

Archdiocese of Winnipeg, Roman Catholic

"Prayer gives an opportunity to recognize that human beings are composed of body, mind, spirit and soul.

"It recognizes that aspect of the human person and helps focus well on the meeting to come.

"If the person was not a believer of anything, say an atheist for example, then I think that person could still appreciate that moment of ‘human time,’" for instance."

 

Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas, president of Humanist Canada

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Eric Thomas, president of Humanist Canada

President, Humanist Canada

"The government has very clearly said through a Supreme Court ruling that we have the duty of neutrality. This is a huge decision, and it is very respectful of the people and of civil rights.

"What should be there? I don’t know.

"You could sing the national anthem, but there is no requirement for a prayer to somebody’s god, or somebody’s theory or ideology.

"To specify one person or ideology, to humanists, is an obvious violation of civil rights."

 

Dan Dyck

Dan Dyck, director of church engagement-communications, Mennonite Church of Canada

Dan Dyck, director of church engagement-communications, Mennonite Church of Canada

Director of Church Engagement-Communications, Mennonite Church of Canada

"We are a people of faith, and we bring our values with us.

"I think everyone brings their values to their various roles, to their work and personal lives, whether they are of faith or no faith.

"People should be free to express their values in the way that they feel comfortable with."

 

Larry Monkman

Elder Larry Monkman

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Elder Larry Monkman

First Nations Elder

"Whoever is leading the prayer, if they start out by saying, ‘I’d like to give thanks to the God of our understanding.’

"If I was to say I’d like to give thanks to Gitchi Manitou, or Buddha or Jehovah, then it excludes other people, because they understand their own god.

"But when you say, ‘I’d like to give thanks to the God of our understanding,’ it means all the gods."

 

Karen Busby

Law professor Karen Busby

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Law professor Karen Busby

Professor of Law, University of Manitoba

"You’d have to look at actual practice, but that’s on the road to the right direction, giving people a choice of what kind of prayer they want to offer.

"But if you were in a community that was highly heterogeneous, like all Christians or all Catholics even, that might give rise to a problem."

 

Pundit Venkat Machiraju

Pundit Venkat Machiraju

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Pundit Venkat Machiraju

Priest, St. Anne’s Hindu Temple

"Whether you follow a religion or not, when you are elected and you promise you will serve, you can just say ‘I can see other people’s feelings, and I have to do my best to eliminate suffering.’"

"The prayer could be general, like ‘I’m given this opportunity and I’m thankful for that, and therefore I want to use it in a positive way.’

"If the city improves, the life of everyone improves."

 

kathleen.saylors@freepress.mb.ca