Why The Supreme Court Is Right About Prayer.

Lord's Prayer

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada released a ruling in a seven year old case from Saguenay, Quebec. The ruling was about a prayer that the Saguenay town council used to open their meetings with. The mayor and council used to open meetings with the Lord’s prayer; the Supreme Court has put a stop to that.

Briefly, the mayor of Saguenay, Quebec used to open town council meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. At one such meeting Alain Simoneau, an atheist, was present and presumably offended enough by this practice that he complained to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal. Eventually, the issue landed in the Supreme court. Read more about the story here.

At the risk of opening up a can of worms that very few evangelicals have been bothered with all week, (After all, don’t we have a sex-ed curriculum to be incensed about?) I thought I’d weigh in on the issue and say something that many people who know me well won’t be very surprised to hear…

I kind of agree with the Supreme Court on this one.

I agree with their unanimous decision for two reasons: one is practical, and the other is theological. First, the practical.

The Practical

I say this often, we don’t live in a Christian Nation. We don’t even live in a nation of Christians.  Canada is very, very secular. Our morality, our ethics, and many of our laws are becoming more and more secularized. This is especially true in Quebec where, depending on which stats you read, only 0.5-0.8% of residents are in any way evangelical. My point is that we can’t (and shouldn’t) expect an increasingly secular nation and culture to give special prominence to Christian prayer in the public sphere. It seems Saguenay council was using only the Lord’s Prayer to open council meetings, perhaps the Supreme Court wouldn’t have minded if they had made allowances for other faith groups (or atheist groups) to rotate and take turns opening the meetings with their own prayers/invocations/blessings/secular words. After all, the council members might mostly be Roman Catholics, but their constituents certainly aren’t. Why leave them out of their own government?

The Theological

Forgive my bluntness, but has the mayor of Saguenay read Matthew 6:5-7 at any point lately? I mean the Supreme Court just told him he can’t open council meetings with the Lord’s prayer, has he even bothered to read why Jesus gave us that prayer in the first place?

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, [and town council meetings?] that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Am I the only one who sees the irony here? Some may say that this new ruling is infringing on the rights of Christians to pray in the public sphere. Even if that is true, Jesus taught us that prayer ought not be done in public like this, but rather privately. There is nothing in the Court ruling prohibiting Mayor Tremblay from praying along with his Catholic brothers and sisters privately before the meeting begins. That is what I would encourage them to do. It’s not a retreat in the “Culture-War”. It’s simply living like Jesus told us to.


2 thoughts on “Why The Supreme Court Is Right About Prayer.

  1. I would take what Spencer said and go further. I think if we took Jesus’ words and made them into the simplistic notion of never pray in public we’d be missing the entire point and following only the form, not to mention making a law of it. After all, pastors praying in church would be a pretty darn good modern day version of praying in a synagogue as Jesus mentioned. So are all people who pray in church sinning?
    Of course not. I would argue that it’s the motive that’s the key. It’s not that they were praying in the synagogues, it’s that they were hypocrites who were doing it for the glory and attention.
    I think saying that Matthew 6 applies to the mayor assumes that we know what his motive is, which is wrong. Might it apply? Sure. Should they be fighting so far and long to be able to keep praying before a meeting in a secular government? Probably not.
    But, assuming his motives are right, while I think his fight is misplaced I admire his willingness to fight and his priorities of trying to keep some light in an increasingly darkening public sphere.

  2. It is funny. I just preached on that text from Matt. 6 this Sunday. I confessed the irony I feel praying as a pastor on behalf of a congregation. I often feel the compulsion to sound more eloquent that, perhaps, I would normally in the inner soliloquy of prayer by myself. I did not mention this event, although it was on my mind, for the same reason: I don’t think whining, forming resentment of lost cultural privilege, and feeding a culture war is unwise.

    Having said that, are all public forms of prayer suspect then? Should prayer be done only in the setting of the gathered church? Does Matt. 6 pertain to all forms of public prayer or just the ones whose intention is for praise?

    As I said on my FB wall, the irony of secularity is that installs the absence of religion as the state religion. I am not interested in feeding a culture war, but I am concerned about just how tenable a secular nation and a secular law system is without its Judeo-Christian foundations.

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