Saskatchewan Wants a Secular Government
REGINA—Saskatchewan residents are calling on Premier Brad Wall to lead a secular government that respects Saskatchewan’s diverse population. The government must not give one religion priority over other religions or no religion. Through letters and an online petition coordinated by the Centre for Inquiry Canada, they are calling for an end to two practices:
1. Opening prayer in the legislature.
2. Christmas messages delivered by Premier Brad Wall or other government officials which favour one religious perspective over other perspectives or creeds.
Saskatchewan members of the Centre for Inquiry Canada will make a statement at Saskatchewan’s first Shift to Reason conference at 12:45 p.m. on April 30 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel (1975 S Broad Street, Regina). Media are invited to attend this or any other portion of the conference. Dusti Hennenfent will also be speaking at ~12:30 p.m. regarding her petition to support Saskatchewan students’ right to a secular education by repealing the law that allows public schools to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
The petition will then be delivered at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building following a statement on the steps at 9:30 a.m. on May 1.
The Centre for Inquiry Canada’s stance is that tradition cannot be used as an excuse to potentially violate human rights. It is an established principle that minorities require protection from the will of the majority. Protection of all people begins with favouring none; therefore, any action by government that excludes a part of the community must be rejected.
Who: Centre for Inquiry Canada
What: Calling upon Saskatchewan government to cease its Christian bias in the legislature and in its Christmas messages
When: April 30 – Petition announcement at Shift to Reason conference at 12:45 p.m.
May 1 – Petition delivered to Legislative Building at 9:30 a.m.
Where: April 30 – Shift to Reason conference at DoubleTree Hilton (1975 S Broad St., Regina)
May 1 – Legislative Building
Why: To urge the government to equally represent all citizens instead of favouring a select group
How: Delivering a petition to the Saskatchewan government
Regarding Christian prayer in the legislature, on April 15, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the City of Saguenay (QC) must stop reciting a prayer at the start of its Council meetings. In response to the Supreme Court decision, Premier Brad Wall said that the Saskatchewan legislature would continue to hold prayers and that:
I have not had one complaint. Not one concern registered. We’re very fortunate in Saskatchewan to have seen unprecedented population growth and we’re attracting people from all over the world. (Canadian Press, April 18, 2015)
Saskatchewan residents are now submitting this complaint and requesting that the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly acknowledge the spirit of this human rights affirming decision and end prayers in the legislature. Key points of the decision include that the state has a duty to be neutral on matters of religion and that non-belief is recognized as requiring the same protection as any specific religious belief:
A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society. The state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others. If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality. (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City),  2 SCR 3, 2015 SCC 16)
The Supreme Court ruling applies across Canada and provides a clear and strong secular direction on the matter of prayers in public spaces. All individuals, including Members of the Legislative Assembly, are free to pray, but these should not be government-led prayers.
Regarding Premier Wall’s annual Christmas messages, those who have sent letters and signed the online petition are not taking issue with the Premier providing year-end reflection and good wishes or even calling this address a “Christmas” message. In these messages, Premier Wall is using his government position to promote his Christian religion as superior to all others or no religion. For example, the 2015 address identifies Jesus as “the divinest heart that ever walked the earth.” Government exclusion of minority groups is certainly not the right thing to do and also not aligned with the duty of neutrality described above. Saskatchewan needs our government to represent the interests of the entire population and to protect the rights of minorities. Residents of Saskatchewan are calling upon the premier to cease these messages or make any such messages religiously neutral.
“Canadian secularists and the non-religious should not forget that human rights precedents in one region are very often cited in other regions,” said Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director of Centre for Inquiry Canada. “Brad Wall’s comments should be of significance to any Canadian concerned with secular human rights.”
CFIC Secular SK Change.org petition
Supreme Court ruling on prayer at city council meetings
Canadian Press: Supreme court rules prayers can’t continue at Quebec council meeting
Canadian Press: Saskatchewan Premier says prayer will remain a part of legislature sittings:
Brad Wall’s 2015 Christmas message
Saskatchewan’s first Shift to Reason conference
Secular Education Change.org petition