The following letter was sent by our Community President, John Jackson, to the Mayor of Mississauga and Mississauga News pertaining to the recent Supreme Court Landmark decision regarding prayers at city councils:
Thank you and your Council for your warm reception last December 17 at the Council meeting. At the meeting, the invocation of a prayer at the start of Council meetings was discussed following a presentation to Council. No real changes were implemented as a result of the presentation other than suggesting to the large contingent of your supporters (most of them Catholics) in attendance that they should remain seated during the introductory prayer. We were impressed with your abilities to garner the support of the religious community when you felt it expedient to fill the Council chambers with supporters for The Lord's Prayer in an obvious attempt to demonstrate an overwhelming support for keeping the prayer.
We were disappointed that the Mississauga City Council chose to trounce the rights of the thousands of non-religious citizens of Mississauga and instead continue with the introductory prayer at the behest of the theists in attendance at the meeting.
We suggested to you and to Council in our address that the invocation of the introductory prayer was not a matter of political expediency. You may wish to remind your Council that it is Council's constitutional duty to protect the rights of minorities, rights that your Council blatantly chose to disregard and trivialize. You and Council's decision last fall to ignore the rights of non-religious citizens, atheists and humanists and allow one of the dominant religions, in this case Catholics, to dictate affairs in the public sphere was an example of allowing the religious majority to undermine the rights of other citizens. We estimate that 16% of Mississauga citizens are non-religious - about 120,000 citizens - but still a minority of the 750,000 residents in the City.
The Supreme Court of Canada has now ruled that the recitation of a Christian prayer at the start of Council meetings is unconstitutional. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that it is "the state's duty to protect every person's freedom of conscience and religion" and 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." Unfortunately, this is exactly what you and your Council did. You promoted the participation of certain believers (Catholics) to the detriment of others (humanists, atheists) in your Council chambers.
The argument put forth by some Councillors was that the tradition of keeping The Lord's Prayer was more important than the rights of other citizens. This argument was also rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court's ruling states that "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."
You and most other Mississauga City Councillors should resign as a result of using your powers to promote religious belief at Mississauga City Council meetings, since your actions are now clearly shown to be a breach of your duty of neutrality. We cannot have elected officials in Mississauga acting contrary to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. It would be an embarrassment for all citizens of Mississauga to be represented by Councillors who ignore the Canadian Constitution and the Supreme Court of Canada to promote their religious beliefs.
President, Halton-Peel Humanist Community