Please keep your religion out of my politics

The unanimous slate of Surrey First was sworn into office on Monday, accompanied by a jazz quartet and even a performance by Mark Donnelly, he of national anthem-singing fame.

I didn’t mind the fanfare and the tired, predictable speeches about Surrey moving forward (not backward which, apparently, is a terrible direction to go under any circumstances) since I expected those.

No, what I minded and did not expect was the 1970s throwback to praying in municipal hall.

Seriously, what was that all about? Following the swearing-in ceremony, pastor Randy Emerson of Cloverdale Christian Church led an invocation.

“It’s an honour to pray and bless this new council and her worship the mayor. So let’s pray,” Emerson said.

It’s got to be kind of a shock to the system for many people who voted for Barinder Rasode, going from thinking they were electing the city’s first ethnically Punjabi mayor to seeing a Christian prayer group at the first official meeting of the new council.

Ironic, too, given the sheer number of ethnically Sikh voters who supported Surrey First at the ballot box.

But whether they were praying to God, Allah, or Vishnu, none of that has a place in the secular halls of our taxpayer-funded government buildings.

And if it does, then we’re truly opening up a can of worms.

It’s true that freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982, and the preamble to the Charter even reads “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

However, the problem with any strict interpretation of our Charter was noted by constitutional scholar Peter Hogg, in that the mention of the “supremacy of God” is contrary to section 2 of the Charter, which protects freedom of conscience.

This freedom allows an individual to hold or consider a viewpoint that is independent of others, such as the viewpoint that God does not exist nor does he have a hand in the affairs of men.

Indeed, one might wonder whether council candidate and Flying Spaghetti Monster minister Obi Canuel, had he won a seat, would have held a sermon over a bowl of pasta to thank His Noodly Appendage for the blessing he has bestowed on all his pirate followers in Surrey.

If that sounds silly, you’re beginning to have an idea of how we, the atheists in society, feel when religious people force us to listen to prayers.

Not only does it waste time, it’s awkward for those of us who don’t believe in God to have to stand somewhere and bow our heads while listening respectfully.

Perhaps if I had been invited to a friend’s dinner party, or a housewarming, or an actual church, it might be a something I’d be willing to bear for the sake of friendship.

It’s not like this is the first time religion has mixed with government. I was forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer in public school in the 1980s. I still know all the words by heart. Thankfully, diversity of thought prevailed and it was removed from schools.

Look, I understand that some people hold their religious beliefs very deeply and I can respect that. But it shouldn’t be happening in our taxpayer-funded buildings.

And I’m actually surprised I have to remind anybody of this, let alone our newly anointed council members.

Adrian MacNair is a staff reporter and photographer with the Now. Reach him at amacnair@thenownewspaper.com.

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