Prayer in the Manitoba Legislature



May 27, 2024
Available in Audio Format:

Last month (and at a prayer breakfast, of all places), Premier Wab Kinew announced that he is considering changing the prayer that opens each day of proceedings at the Manitoba legislature. Currently, at the beginning of every day, the Speaker reads the following prayer:

“O Eternal and Almighty God, from whom all power and wisdom come, we are assembled here before Thee to frame such laws as may tend to the welfare and prosperity of our province.

Grant, O merciful God, we pray Thee, that we may desire only that which is in accordance with Thy will, that we may seek it with wisdom and know it with certainty and accomplish it perfectly.

For the glory and honour of Thy name and for the welfare of all our people. Amen.”

Prayer at the opening of each day at the legislature is a longstanding tradition in the British Parliamentary system, the system of government that Canada’s government is based on. The federal government and almost every provincial government offer such daily prayers. (The BC Humanist Association, very much against the offering of religious prayers in legislatures, has a handy infographic and report of standard practices across the country.)

Despite the longstanding tradition and Canada’s Christian heritage, the premier is considering revising that prayer in light of the growing numbers of Manitobans that don’t identify as Christians. According to the 2021 Census, 54.2% of Manitobans identified as Christian, 36.7% identifying as having no religious affiliation, and 9.0% reporting another religious affiliation such as Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, or Hindu.

“I’m asking faith leaders and people who grapple with the questions of secularism and what does it mean to be a Manitoban today to look at this opening prayer and say, ‘Is there a way that we could spend this minute that more accurately reflects who we are as Manitobans today?’” said Premier Kinew. “Is there a way that we could preserve the space for those who believe in God, and people such as myself who pray every day, but also to be more inclusive — inclusive of different faith traditions, but also inclusive of people who pride secularism in our society, people who may define themselves as atheists or non-believers?”

Abandoning Christian prayers in provincial legislatures is hardly new. In 2008, then Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty mused about removing the Lord’s Prayer that was offered every session. At the time, MPP Garfield Dunlop, who was on the committee considering whether to remove the Lord’s Prayer, said, “There is a lot more behind it than just the prayer. Our whole British parliamentary system was based on Christianity. That goes right back to the Magna Carta. The first parliamentary sessions held in Great Britain were held in churches . . . Removing one thing is just like chipping away at a foundation. There is no reason to do that.” After a groundswell of opposition to chipping away at that foundation, the Ontario government kept the Lord’s prayer, with even premier McGuinty admitting “that his suggestion to abolish the Lord’s Prayer had resulted in a scolding from his Catholic mother.”

In 2019, the Legislature of British Columbia changed its practice slightly in response to the BC Humanist Association’s letter writing campaign and in opposition to ARPA’s objection to the erosion of British Columbia’s Christian heritage. The province expanded the time for prayer to include “prayers and reflections” and updated the list of sample prayers to remove some overtly Christian language from some prayers and to create new sample prayers from other religions. However, MLAs are still allowed to offer prayer or reflection of their own devising in whatever religious tradition that they wish.

A Christian Argument for Prayer

Reformed Christians should continue to support the manifestation of religious conviction in the public square. We believe in the sovereignty of God over all aspects of creation, including our civil government. He is the one who ultimately controls our provincial government and society, and it is certainly appropriate to call upon His name in the legislature. Prayer recognizes the reality of the presence and power of God.

The practice of prayer within the legislature recognizes the importance of the public manifestation of personal religious convictions. True faith is more than just a personal relationship with God. It also applies this faith to all activities, including the realm of politics and public service. While many people and organizations may seek to contain faith and religion exclusively in the private sphere, it is impossible for those grafted into Christ not to exhibit public fruits of faith. This public manifestation of faith includes voting based on biblical truths, treating others respectfully as image-bearers of God, and recognizing God’s authority over all things in public prayer.

The preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, lyrics in our national anthem, and the inscriptions on the national parliament buildings reference Canada’s Christian heritage. Any attempt to relegate prayer to private settings is an attempt to further erase the religious heritage of our country and provinces.

An Opportunity for Action

Despite Premier Kinew’s personal suggestion that the prayer in the legislature be changed, he is seeking the input of Manitobans on how prayer is offered in the legislature. A government news release last month states the following:

“The Manitoba government is seeking input as it works to refresh the prayer read by the Speaker at the opening of each legislative session, Premier Wab Kinew announced this morning at the ninth annual Multi-Faith Leadership Breakfast.

‘Every day that the legislature is in session, we begin with a prayer – and that prayer has gone unchanged for many years,’ said Kinew. ‘We believe it’s time to update this opening to ensure it captures who we are as Manitobans today. There is space within the words we share each day for more Manitobans to feel grounded and to pause for reflection. That’s why I’m inviting Manitobans from all walks of life to work with us to ensure that who we are as Manitobans, as one Manitoba, is reflected.’

To ensure the legislature opening remains relevant to Manitobans from all walks of life and reflects the values and priorities of Manitobans, the Manitoba government will host a roundtable to gather perspectives on changes to the legislature opening.”

If the premier is soliciting input, let’s give it to him! Send an EasyMail to the premier and your local MLA today.

P.S. If you don’t think that it is appropriate for the Speaker to offer a Christian prayer in the legislature, reach out to us at [email protected]. We’d be interested in having a discussion!

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