Religion, faith and spirituality in the legislative assembly of British Columbia.

Author:Bueckert, Chardaye
 
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This article aims to further a conversation about the role of religion, faith, and spirituality in public institutions in Canada by examining the practice of prayer in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. The authors provide a background of prayer in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, an overview of the differing customs in provincial and territorial legislative assemblies in Canada, and also public controversies and court cases which have arisen in response to these conventions. Following an analysis of prayers delivered at the opening of legislative sessions of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia from 1992 to 2016, the article concludes by comparing the content of prayers delivered to self-reported rates of religiosity, spirituality, and faith amongst the general British Columbia population.

Introduction

Contemporary Canada is largely conceived of as a secular society; yet some historic religious elements remain entrenched in Canadian democratic institutions, including the practice of prayer in provincial legislatures. This article aims to further a conversation about the role of religion, faith, and spirituality in public institutions in Canada by examining the practice of prayer in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. We provide a background of prayer in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, an overview of the differing customs in provincial and territorial legislative assemblies in Canada, and also public controversies and court cases which have arisen in response to these conventions. Following an analysis of prayers delivered at the opening of legislative sessions of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia from 1992 to 2016, the article concludes by comparing the content of prayers delivered to self-reported rates of religiosity, spirituality, and faith amongst the general British Columbia population. By examining these opening prayers, we hope to illuminate the representation of different religions within the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. It is important to note that due to data limitations, this examination will be a "snapshot" of faith-based conventions in the Legislature Assembly of British Columbia, rather than a comprehensive analysis of how different faith groups are represented in practice.

Building on existing literature about religion in Canadian legislatures, particularly Martin Lanouette's 2009 article (1) for the Canadian Parliamentary Review which compared legislature prayer at the national level in Commonwealth countries and the United States of America, we provide an interprovincial overview with a special focus on the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. We hope it will also supplement research conducted by Ontario Legislative Intern Christiana Fizet in 2009 about the use of the Lord's Prayer in the Ontario Legislature, (2) and a 2014 report presented by Rosalie Jukier and Jose Woehrling to the XVIIIth International Congress of Comparative Law about the role of faith in Canadian law, society, and public institutions. (3)

History and Practice of Legislative Prayer

The practice of legislative prayer began around 1558 in the United Kingdom, when the early British Parliament met within a church. (4) This practice has been imitated in Canadian legislatures--a legacy of their British parliamentary origins. (5) In British Columbia, before the beginning of daily proceedings, the routine business of the Legislative Assembly includes an interdenominational prayer provided by a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). (6) The reading of a prayer also occurs prior to the Speech from the Throne, a practice that marks the opening of a new legislative session by outlining the government's legislative priorities for that session. This prayer is delivered by a representative of a faith group rather than an MLA. An invitation to deliver this opening prayer is facilitated through the Office of the Speaker, who may also assist the Office of the Premier when that office has expressed an interest in inviting someone to deliver the prayer. It has become practice to invite representatives of different faith groups on a rotating basis. MLAs may also make suggestions to the Office of the Speaker about whom to invite to deliver the prayer, though ultimately the Office of the Speaker makes the necessary arrangements.

Across Canada and within other Commonwealth countries, prayers were traditionally seen as a private practice for the benefit of the elected members of each respective legislature and, therefore, not necessarily recorded as part of Hansard, the transcript of legislative proceedings. The Parliament of Britain does not transcribe prayers, and even prohibits the public from entering the public gallery until after the prayer has been completed. (7) In the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, prayers delivered prior to the Speech from the Throne were not initially transcribed when a Hansard was first implemented in 1972. These opening prayers have been transcribed from 2001 onward, while daily prayers delivered by MLAs have never been entered into the written record. (8) Audio visual broadcasting of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia began in 1991, and both daily prayers and prayers...

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