Report on prayers in council coming in May

The Cornwall city council chambers, pictured here in April 2015, is one of two SD&G councils where prayers are held to open council meetings. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled April 15, 2015 that can't happen anymore because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion. (Cornwall Newswatch/File)

CORNWALL – While city council had its first meeting without an opening invocation, Cornwall is not about to let the sun set on prayers.

The move followed a Supreme Court of Canada ruling this month quashing the practice.

Coun. Bernadette Clement has asked for a report on having invocation stay as part of the meeting.

“Our process here (in council) has been this rotation to have different prayers and different faiths. I personally think the invocation moment is an important moment in the meeting. I read the decision. It seems pretty clear,” Clement said.

A report could come back with that information. Clement wants to see what alternatives council could have “but we have to be legal and conforming,” she said.

“We need to respect the Supreme Court of Canada decision,” Clement told Cornwall Newswatch following the meeting. “What I’d like is a report that tells us what the position of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities – get a sense of what other people are doing and how they’re analyzing that decision. If our process is illegal we have to stop that,” she said.

But Clement suggests there should be a discussion about what, if anything, is put in place of invocation. “Should we have no invocation, should we have a moment of silence, should we have words said to sort of create a moment where we express gratitude that isn’t any reference to God?”

But the veteran councillor understands the separation of church and state. “I read the Supreme Court of Canada decision and they state very clearly that there is a duty on the part of the municipality to stay extremely neutral. I’m not going to disagree with the Supreme Court of Canada,” Clement said.

Coun. Claude McIntosh is looking forward to the report but he doesn’t appear phased by not having opening prayers. “We didn’t have a prayer tonight and the skies didn’t open and we didn’t have a clap of thunder,” McIntosh said.

The report should be coming back the second council meeting in May.

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