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Northern Alberta municipality one of the last to stop Lord's prayer

MD of Bonnyville council members recently chose to cease prayers during meetings, and will pray instead during their own time.  
Prayers will no longer be held during council meetings at the Bonnyville M.D

 In early May, the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) released an article identifying eight Albertan municipalities that included prayers in their council meetings, the MD of Bonnyville being one of them.  

A 63-page report was written, which included transcriptions of the prayers from the council meeting recordings. The BCHA found this practice went against the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (Saguenay) that was established in 2015.  

Under the counsel of MD of Bonnyville CAO Al Hoggan, council members recently chose to cease prayers during meetings, and will pray instead during their own time.  

“We never had a big discussion. After it was brought to our attention, I asked the council and we voted. We chose as a council to quit the prayers,” says Reeve Barry Kalinski. 

In an article published by the BC Humanist Association on May 30, called Prayers end in MD of Bonnyville following BCHA advocacy, Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, research coordinator for the BC Humanist Association stated, “I am pleased to see that MD of Bonnyville has discontinued its unconstitutional practice of opening meetings with prayer. It is important that everyone feel welcome at municipal council meetings. When a municipality opens a meeting with prayer, it sends the message that one religion is more important than others and is more important than non-religion. This practice violates the state's duty of religious neutrality.” 

Speaking with Lakeland This Week, Kalinski affirmed, “If you're from the MD and you do or do not serve whatever God - we don’t judge anybody. Whoever you want to serve, it’s your choice. Thats what we stand for... Everybody is welcome at the MD.” 

MD of Bonnyville Coun. Josh Crick’s prayers were transcribed in the BCHA report, and he was identified as the last councillor to say a prayer at a council meeting before they were discontinued.  

Crick says the transcriptions do not bother him at all, and that he is not ashamed of saying the prayers. 

Crick is clear that he speaks for himself and not the municipality. 

“Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t allow prayers in council, I will continue to pray on my own time for the municipal district, for the residents, and for the staff... We have a huge responsibility, not only with decisions about funding... To pray and ask for wisdom - why would we not ask for wisdom from the creator of the universe?” 

“I think the BC Humanist Association should mind their own business,” says Coun. Crick. He says the MD of Bonnyville has been blessed in the past, and credits prayer.  

“I think we’ve been so blessed because we’ve prayed.” 

Kalinski recalls a story about the positive reception of prayer he experienced in the past.  

“Even on my last council I used to serve, there was talk of quitting prayer [during council] as well at that time - enforced by the government. So, one of the guys that didn’t believe in praying, he just thought it was so beneficial that our MD pray, that he said to me, ‘Well if they shut us down, we’ll go in the back room before meetings and we’re going to pray for the meeting.’ And he never prayed or really believed in God, so I thought that was pretty amazing, that he said that at that time. He just thought we were blessed because we prayed for our area.” 

Kalinski further explains the purpose of the prayer. 

“We pray for wisdom and the safety of our staff and the people of the MD - a blessing over them.”  

These are the same sentiments expressed in the many transcripts of prayers recorded by the BCHA. Most reference a blessing to the people and staff and ask for wisdom. Blessings for farmers, rain, peace in the Ukraine, and members in mourning were also featured in prayers.  

One prayer example by Kalinski reads: “Rise, if you choose to… Father thank you for this wonderful day and all your many blessings. Thank you for the MD of Bonnyville. Thank you for our CAO, the directors, managers and the staff... I want to thank you for the MD residents and for being with this council and giving us wisdom today.” 

The BCHA referred to the church Reeve Kalinski attends, his recent mission work in Haiti, and religious references made in a press release about his safe return. 

In response, Kalinski spoke about the overwhelming support he received from people of all religions and agnostics alike upon his safe return from being stranded in Haiti and welcomed all expressions of prayer during his personal struggles.  

“I still to this day get people telling me that they prayed for me. Thoughts and prayers, it’s something we all say... I had people that have never prayed, when I was in the country of Haiti and stranded, they’d tell me ‘I prayed for you.’ That means the world when somebody tells you that.” 

In an email to Lakeland This Week, Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BCHA wrote, “We're always pleased to see local governments recognize their important duty of religious neutrality and inclusion of all citizens and residents. A growing number of people across Canada are atheists or non-religious. That includes 42 per cent of the people in the MD of Bonnyville. Secularism in government is about ensuring each of these people, as well as those of minority faiths, feel welcome in their local government.” 

Although Kalinski has accepted the discontinuation of the prayers during council meetings, he reflects on the difficulties society faces today and still believes the world could use more prayers. 

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