Canada
4 min

Premier McGuinty: get rid of all prayer in the leg

Politicians should put allegiance to voters first

The Ontario legislature has launched a committee to consult the public on whether the province should keep the Lord’s Prayer before the daily proceedings.

Why are we even having a debate on this? There is no good reason for keeping the prayer or for replacing it with any other prayers, non-denominational or not. The only option should be to scrap the bloody thing altogether.

Christians, of course, have immediately leapt to the defence of the prayer. “The Lord’s Prayer has been a tradition and it certainly has relevance today,” Neil MacCarthy, the director of communications with the Catholic archdiocese of Toronto, told the Toronto Star. “You talk to people of many different faiths and they say that the Lord’s Prayer is as good as any to have as part of their day.”

Personally I’m not convinced that Buddhists or Sikhs find saying the Lord’s Prayer a good part of their day. And what about those of us who are people of no faith? Public schools aren’t allowed to recite a prayer. Businesses don’t start the day with a mass prayer because they know it would offend many employees. No other legislature in Canada uses the Lord’s Prayer, although some still do use prayers.

A lot of people say this whole debate is unimportant. I disagree. Now I have no doubt that Dalton McGuinty’s reasons for raising it are primarily political — based, no doubt, on the overwhelmingly negative reaction voters had to Conservative leader John Tory’s proposal to fund religious schools — but getting rid of the prayer is important. McGuinty may be too much of a chickenshit to take the issue on directly, and his primary motivation may be the hope it will work against the Tories, but it’s still a debate well worth having.

Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop, who sits on the committee, told the Star his party would never support banning the Lord’s Prayer completely. “Our whole British parliamentary system was based on Christianity,” he said.

No doubt this is the sort of thing McGuinty was hoping for. But while it’s true that Ontario is based largely on a Judeo-Christian past, Ontario today is a vastly different place. It’s hugely multi-cultural, populated by people who aren’t Christian and don’t want their public representatives pledging allegiance to God over the voters. Besides one has only to look at the struggle native bands in the province are having to keep mining and logging companies from destroying their lands to realize that Christian traditions have a lot to answer for. Not to mention, of course, the homophobia.

To offer your own thoughts to the committee, go to Ontla.on.ca.

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Toronto’s Catholic school board has decided to administer religious exams to Grade 4 students in its schools.

The exams will test students’ knowledge of Catholic beliefs and rituals, with such questions as “Complete the following sentence: Another word for Candlemas Day is the Feast of ___” Or “Complete the prayer: God, I am __ for all my __, for what I have __, and for what I have __ to do. I will sincerely try to do __. Help me to walk by your __. Amen.”

Or “What do you think Jesus meant when he told the disciples to ‘come and see?'” I don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t inviting them to witness nine-year-olds being tested on their knowledge of religious dogma. No word on if the quiz included questions about the Catholic position on homosexuality.

Now I realize that part of the function of Catholic schools is to teach — or in my preferred phrase, “inculcate” — little children about the church’s beliefs. And I understand that much of Catholicism is a series of rote answers to rote questions, but does the church really want to reduce religious belief to the level of a math or literacy test? Should religious faith be a matter of what grade it will get you?

Shouldn’t schools, even Catholic ones, be encouraging students to think critically and question received wisdom? If someone doesn’t come to a religious belief of their own volition and through their own inner searchings, what kind of faith can they possibly hold? I don’t believe nine-year-olds are ready for that sort of soul-searching, so stop trying to cram religion down their throats.

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A police raid on a compound in Texas owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) revealed that the rebel Mormon sect was forcing young girls to marry older members of the church and then subjecting them to rape and abuse.

A new book by BC journalist Daphne Bramham — The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect — reveals that the same thing is going on in Canada, that a Canadian chapter of the FLDS is hunkered down in a BC border town called Bountiful.

Bramham’s book alleges that provincial and federal governments and police have ignored the abuse and human rights violations in the FLDS-run town, and have even continued to grant money to the sect. This money reportedly includes more than $1 million in annual grants to the private religious school run by the sect, despite the fact that the school completely ignores the provincial curriculum it’s supposed to follow. And given that even mainstream Mormons aren’t known for being gay-friendly, one shudders to think of some of the lessons they might teach.

The fact is governments are afraid to directly challenge religions — even abusive, whackjob ones — for fear of, first, alienating religious voters, and, second, of ending up in Waco-style shootout with gun-toting religious nuts. This is no doubt especially true of the current federal government since gun-toting religious nuts are among Stephen Harper’s key constituencies.

I don’t think the Mormons use the Lord’s Prayer — although I may be wrong about that — but is it any wonder I think using prayer to open a session of parliament is a bad idea?