City hall turns away pray-in for Iraq peace
The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Praying for peace in Iraq is not allowed at City Hall.
City bureaucrats decided the Edmonton Interfaith Centre's prayer service on Friday for world peace was too political to hold under the City Hall pyramids.
It's the second time in the past week the administration has blocked efforts of people opposed to a possible war in Iraq. Last weekend, some individuals promoting today's peace rally received $50 tickets for passing out leaflets in an LRT pedway.
The interfaith centre hastily relocated its service to McDougall United Church, where 60 people quietly prayed during the lunch hour.
"We were surprised and dismayed to book an interfaith prayer service for peace in City Hall ... and then to have it cancelled because it would have 'political overtones,' " said a letter from the organizers to city council.
David Schneider, manager of the city communications department, said council policy makes it clear groups cannot hold events inside City Hall if the meetings deal with political issues over which council has no jurisdiction.
"We are doing our best to interpret city council's intentions," he said, insisting City Hall has fewer restrictions than the legislature or Canada Place.
The interfaith group complained to Coun. Michael Phair on Wednesday and Phair appealed the decision to city manager Al Maurer.
Later Wednesday, Maurer ruled the prayer meeting should not be allowed inside City Hall.
Phair said Friday that council should now either change the policy or give administrators clear direction so prayer meetings are permitted from now on.
Coun. Stephen Mandel disagreed, saying the meeting was clearly political even though participants met to pray. "Where do you draw the line?" he asked, suggesting this meeting could not be allowed inside City Hall while other protests and political events are asked to stay outside the building.
At McDougall United Church, the quiet prayer service lasted an hour, with one participant after another calling for world peace.
Buddhist Lama Liannei chanted a prayer then told the meeting: "All peoples should have the same opportunity to live in peace and harmony."
Other participants read from Jewish and Muslim holy texts, sang a Jain prayer and prayed to the Creator in Cree and English. Simple prayers for peace and international harmony came from a Zoroastrian, a Taoist, a Christian and a member of the Baha'i faith.
The service was co-hosted by the Mahatma Gandhi Canadian Foundation for World Peace. Foundation chairman Prem Kalia quoted Albert Einstein's belief that all divisions within humanity are an illusion.
"We are all Iraqis; we are all Americans."
The most political note came from Unitarian Brian Kiely, who spoke of world leaders beating war drums and prayed for help just one day before today's peace rally and march, which starts at Churchill Square at 1 p.m.
"Help us to find the passion to take to the streets and demand peace from our leaders," Kiely prayed. "Help us to find the ability to spread hope for peace among the people."
©Copyright 2003, The Edmunton Journal (Canada)
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