Richmond Hill council suspends prayer at meetings
For the first time in decades, Richmond Hill council began its public session Monday without the usual opening prayer.
The inspirational words beginning with “We thank you, O Caring God” were skipped this week pending a review of last week’s ruling from Canada’s Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision, Canada’s top court ruled April 15 that a small town in Quebec may not open council meetings with prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion, and the state must remain neutral.
The decision sent ripples of reaction across the country. Some municipalities, such as Calgary, switched to a moment of contemplation before council; others, like Windsor, opted for a rendition of O Canada.
Locally, Vaughan, Aurora, Newmarket, East Gillimbury and King have not been commencing meetings with common prayer. Georgina councillors begin with a minute of quiet meditation or reflection.
Markham did not respond by press time.
In Richmond Hill, for many years, a member of council has recited a brief non-denominational prayer.
Mayor Dave Barrow announced at the start of Monday’s formal council meeting at town hall that the practice will be suspended pending a review to ensure conformity with the Supreme Court ruling.
While it may not be a popular decision to forgo the opening prayer, it is a necessary one, Barrow said, “so we don’t set ourselves up at Supreme Court”.
As he called the meeting to order, however, two councillors presented alternatives.
Ward 1 Councillor Greg Beros read the national anthem in lieu of a prayer – including the fourth verse beginning with “Ruler Supreme who hears our humble prayer…”.
Regional Councillor Brenda Hogg then read words of inspiration she had composed as an alternative to the usual prayer:
“Tonight council comes together as representatives of our town to conduct the town’s business. We are glad to be joined by our many engaged citizens, both at home and with us here in council chambers tonight. May we use this time to hear from our residents; respond to the reports by the professional staff who inform us; and make fair and responsible decisions in the best interests of our community.”
Richmond Hill’s legal services division will review the longstanding town council prayer (see sidebar) in the context of the court ruling, along with other relevant policies and the practices of other Ontario municipalities, and a staff report will be presented to council for a decision on how best to proceed. http://www.yorkregion.com/news-s ... prayer-at-meetings/