Thursday 18 January 2001
City council keeps God in its prayer
'If it ain't broke, don't fix it': Deans
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa City Council has thrown out an attempt to rewrite the prayer that opens its meetings, arguing the one-line petition is inclusive despite its reference to God, and sets a thoughtful tone to their agenda.
Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen's request to have the Capital Region Interfaith Council create a new, inclusive invocation to begin council meetings was itself a compromise on his original wish, to replace the prayer entirely with a moment of silence. Still, only five of his colleagues agreed the current short prayer should be re-examined.
"Prayer is useful because it serves to remind certain members that they aren't the supreme being," said Baseline Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli, among those opposing the change. "I think it's condescending to imply that you can pray without any reference to God."
City council is using the same prayer as the former regional council: "Almighty God, let us work together to serve all our people." In two city council meetings held since councillors officially took office, Mayor Bob Chiarelli has led the prayer immediately following the playing of the national anthem and just before roll call.
The prayer uses the same form of address as the one used in Parliament, and is much shorter. But Mr. Cullen said it is not inclusive enough, as it doesn't account for atheists or faiths that don't believe in a singular supreme being.
The Interfaith Council is composed of religious leaders of several different faiths, and provided the invocation used at council's public swearing-in ceremony Jan. 7. That invocation, which opened without specifically addressing God, spoke of the many backgrounds, languages, cultures, races and faiths that make up the amalgamated city.
"I think our individual beliefs are not the issue here," said Somerset Ward Councillor Elisabeth Arnold, who seconded Mr. Cullen's motion, in an interview. "I do believe in the idea of a God but I also think we represent a very multicultural, multidenominational community."
But 15 councillors at the table during a special council meeting yesterday disagreed with Mr. Cullen, and rejected the idea of an update.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Gloucester-Southgate Ward Councillor Diane Deans.
"This corporation has a full agenda ahead of us and I don't think we need these make-work projects. We have enough to do."
Others argued that God is still referred to in the national anthem and in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"Let us reflect who we are and offend no one. It offends no one, in my view," said Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward Councillor Jacques Legendre, who said the prayer shows humility.
Statistics Canada has not gathered complete religious information on Canadian residents since 1991, when about 10 per cent of residents in the Ottawa-Hull region had no religious affiliation, about one per cent were Jewish, and a little over three per cent practised eastern non-Christian religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikh and Baha'i faiths.
Provincial statistics show the number of adults practising religions outside mainstream Roman Catholic and Protestant, which means Eastern Orthodox Christians as well as Jews, Hindus, Muslims and others, has more than doubled since the mid-1980s. In 1986, 400,000 adults practised a religion outside mainstream Christianity -- a number that increased to 830,000 by 1998.
Among councillors, the percentage of Christians is much higher. All 17 surveyed by the Citizen -- the others could not be reached or did not return phone calls -- said they believe in God.
©Copyright 2001, The Ottawa Citizen