Freedom to pray?

I usually do not comment officially on things that happens in the “political” side of reality, but lately I have found myself being a bit caught up and engaged in some of the things happening there. I usually choose not to comment because I do not want to be caught up in that kind of language. So i guess this is the post that confirms my “rule”.

The Star Phoenix writes in a recent article about a complaint made against the City of Saskatoon. It concerns a counsellor praying at an official function (paid by tax payers) http://www.thestarphoenix.com/life/Christian+prayer+sparks+complaint/6496119/story.html. The counsellor says a blessing over the meal at the function. The argument that Mr. Ashu Solo puts forth is that he feels excluded, as an atheist, by this act of religion (Christianity in this case). He also says that state and religion is separated and therefore prayer should not take place in forums of state affairs. What amazes me is that a man who (I think) promotes tolerance (Mr Solo is a part of  the city’s cultural diversity and race relations committee) does not have any tolerance with this prayer. He goes on to say that this city and country is not a religious but secular and multicultural. That there is both spiritual, agnostic and atheist people living here. These last few words are true. But as for saying that this city and this country is not Christian just speaks about his lack of interest and knowledge about Canada’s and Saskatoon history and current demographic make up. If Mr Solo is so concerned about everybody being evenly and equally represented in state forums than maybe he would consider all the people not praying at that particular function and by that very silence are representing other opinions and religions.

I don’t believe that church/religion and state are destined to be together on this side of judgement either. But one of the fundamental pillars of a good state is to allow for the individual subject to express an objective belief in something or Someone. Both freedom of expression and freedom of religion are in question here. Is it freedom of religion if you can not express your religion in prayer in public? I gladly allow Mr. Solo to express his opinions in state forums without me “feeling excluded.” This kind of tolerance is part of what it means to be a part of human enterprise. I would also encourage Mr Solo to compare the spread of freedom of religion with the spread of Christianity. He could also study the spread of secularism with the spread of totalitarian state. Maybe he would discover the same pattern as I have namely that Christianity is the one religion that have a very high emphases on personal and religious freedom, choice, liberty and tolerance. Maybe that could compel him to show some of the same patience.

Bottom line seems to me to be that Mr. Solos secular opinions wants to exclude religion by way of repressing religious activity into the private sphere only (this may be a jump to conclusion but I think it may be pretty accurate). However, secular lifestyle and opinions is off course acceptable in the public and at state affairs because it is a “non belief”. But I tell you that a “non belief” is a belief as well because no subject here on earth can put forth “conclusive evidence” that God does not exist. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Mr Solo “feels excluded” in a way because his very philosophy of life denies and excludes him from the possibility of believing in anything or anyone more than himself… and that is a very lonely place to be.

In conclusion I would encourage Mr Solo to display some of this tolerance so that he can use it as a tool in the work of the city’s cultural diversity and race relations committee. I would also encourage Mr. Solo to consider the possibility, or the approach, that no society is totally secular since people always have believed in something or Someone. Be it themselves or in God, in things seen or unseen (or both).To say that a city or a country is secular is the sense Mr. Solo I think means is to rob that city or country of a huge part of its identity and therefore the ability for that city or country to identify itself.

Do we jeopardize people’s individual freedom if we perform religious activity in state forums or do we jeopardize people’s individual freedom if we forbid them? I think we know the answer.

In Christ.

Fr. Jakob

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