February 11, 2001
N.S. New Democrat pushing for daily prayer to be silenced in legislature
"If people want to pray, let them pray either in private or in their houses of worship," said Howard Epstein, MLA for Halifax-Chebucto.
In Nova Scotia, the Lord's Prayer is recited by members of the legislature each day the house is in session, before the doors are opened in the public gallery.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I and Ontario are the only provinces that still adhere to the practice.
Epstein, who is Jewish, said he feels excluded by the Christian prayer and boycotts the daily ritual. But he said his main objection is to the concept of politicians praying.
"The public may feel anything that would help politicians would be worthwhile," said Epstein.
"(But) it's inappropriate. I do tend to believe in a separation of church and state."
Mark Parent, a Conservative government backbencher, who is also a Baptist minister, disagrees.
He said there is still a place in the legislature's proceedings to ask for guidance from above. Parent, who represents the Kings-North riding, said parliamentarians, through prayer, are acknowledging there is "something deeper, greater and more powerful."
He said the tradition should continue to remind politicians there is a greater justice at work.
A court case is currently underway in Ontario where a Holocaust survivor is trying to get the provincial legislature to drop the recitation of the Lord's Prayer.
Henry Freitag argues the ritual is a form of religious indoctrination that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 1999, he won a legal victory that effectively ended the recitation of the Lord's Prayer at municipal council meetings in Ontario. Many councils now substitute a minute of silence.
While Parent is opposed to doing away with prayers altogether in the Nova Scotia legislature, he said it's time to review the ritual.
"We should have more inclusive prayers, or prayers from different traditions," said Parent.
At the recent Conservative Party convention, Parent led a non-denominational prayer service, which closed with a Baha'i prayer.
"There are some wonderful Mi'kmaq prayers," said Parent, who added that Canada's changing demographics will eventually force a change.
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