Canada
4 min

Take God out of the legislature

Decisions should be rooted in secular thinking

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty wants to strike an all-party committee to look at whether the provincial legislature should continue to open daily proceedings with a recital of the Lord’s Prayer.

It probably shouldn’t have, but the fact that the Lord’s Prayer still opens every session came as a nasty surprise to me. And what pisses me off even further is that McGuinty doesn’t even seem to be considering dropping the prayer entirely.

The Premier says he wants “to look at how we can move beyond the Lord’s Prayer to a broader approach that is more inclusive in nature” and which “better reflects our diversity.”

How about dropping prayer entirely?

There have been proposals to drop the reference to “Our Father” for those who don’t believe in God’s masculinity and to drop the references to heaven. But what about those religions other than Christianity, Islam and Judaism? Those three all share a belief in the same God, but what about Hinduism, for example, which has a belief in an entire pantheon of deities? And, more importantly, what about those of us who don’t believe in any gods at all? What about those who believe that the legislature should be completely secular?

And how are Ontario queers supposed to feel, given how often religion has been invoked as a rationale for governments denying equal rights or protection under the law?

Courts have already ruled that it’s unconstitutional for Ontario public schools and municipal councils to start with the Lord’s Prayer. Why should the provincial legislature, which supposedly represents and protects all residents of the province, be excepted from these rulings?

The federal parliament and Senate both use a non-denominational prayer. The BC and Alberta legislatures use lists of non-denominational prayers. Newfoundland has no prayer and the Quebec legislature has only a moment of quiet reflection. Every other province or territory uses the Lord’s Prayer.

But given that most of us — certainly in the queer community — expect our governments to make decisions rooted in non-religious thinking and what’s best for people not God, why are they still starting the day by subjugating themselves to this mythical being?

If parliamentarians want to pray, go somewhere and pray. Don’t do it in public before a start of the people’s parliament. After all, Jesus himself said, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. … But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”

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A public school trustee in Mississauga insists that schools are not paying enough attention to Christianity in their celebration of religious holidays. They’re downplaying the Christ in Christmas, he says.

Don Stephens complained that other religions are having their beliefs “appropriately reflected” in the acknowledgement of their celebrations, so why not poor little Christianity?

Now, personally, I’d be just as happy if schools didn’t bother celebrating any religious holidays. Teach the kids about the holiday and what it means, and if a student’s beliefs require them to take the day off, fine. But leave the actual celebrating to the religious communities themselves.

But the complaint actually reflects the new stealth approach Christians seem to be adopting to forcing their beliefs on the rest of us. They claim they want all religions to have the same rights, and then rely on sheer force of numbers in North America to overwhelm everyone else.

The most blatant recent example of this was in Oklahoma’s Bill 2211. The Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act was recently passed by the House of Representatives Education Committee and will go to a full vote of the House, followed by the Senate.

The bill states: “Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of the submission by the student. … Students shall not be penalized or rewarded on account of religious content.”

In other words, students will be able to say any fucking thing they want in the name of their religion without being academically penalized for it. If they want to claim that the world is 6,000 years old, or that God decrees that 2 + 2 = 56,900 or that queers are going to burn in hell, a teacher can’t mark them down for it.

Texas has already passed an identical bill. The result is that one school district has decreed that no students may ever speak in assembly, to graduation, at an athletic event or in any other group function. According to the Denton Record Chronicle, the district superintendent said if no students are ever allowed to speak, then there will be no discrimination and no basis for lawsuits

In Oklahoma, one of the movers of the bill is Representative Sally Kern who, in a recent speech, claimed that queers are a bigger threat to the US than terrorism and that homos are actively recruiting two-year-olds.

Now you might think it’s a stretch for me to equate a kerfuffle about celebrating Christmas in public schools to southern US whackos, but I stick to my belief that you give religion an inch in public school and it takes several hundred miles.

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In the midst of the debate about Bill C-10, which gives the federal Heritage Minister the right to cut federal funding from any film she dislikes, evangelist and Stephen Harper pal Charles McVety had to feed his ego by taking credit for the provision.

Government ministers promptly scrambled to distance themselves from McVety’s claims, doubtless on the basis that associating themselves even more with religious wingnuts would make an already controversial bill even harder to pass.

Sometimes even evangelical whackjobs have to learn to take yes for an answer.

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As always, any agreement, disagreement, constructive debate or gratuitous insult in response to this column is eagerly welcomed.