Fundy Albert backtracks on council meeting prayer
A southeastern New Brunswick community has backtracked on an earlier vote to hold a prayer at the start of municipal council meetings and instead will offer a moment of reflection.
Fundy Albert council voted 5-2 on Tuesday in a meeting with standing room only and with 60 people watching online.
The original Feb. 6 vote prompted immediate calls to reconsider the decision in the newly formed community south of Moncton that includes Alma, Riverside-Albert and Hillsborough.
Coun. Loretta Elderkin moved to amend the original prayer motion by removing a reference to prayer, substituting the act with a moment of silent reflection.
It would be followed by a "commitment," that says:
"We, Fundy Albert, proudly promote a healthy, safe, vibrant and inclusive community. We are dedicated to delivering excellent services and engaging in meaningful public presentation. Please allow us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to accept the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference."
Elderkin said the revision came from reflection over the past month on the "continuous outpour both for and against" the prayer.
"I understand it's not my personal preference necessarily, but I do understand that we represent everyone here in this community, and have to come to a common ground and I'm suggesting that this would be my common ground," Elderkin said.
'Generated significant controversy': mayor
Mayor Robert Rochon, who said he was raised a Roman Catholic, voted against the prayer motion last month and in favour of changing it Tuesday.
The mayor said the vote last month was "an issue that has generated significant controversy." He said there were many who contacted the community in support, and many against, a prayer.
Rochon read passages of the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision against a prayer at a Quebec council meeting. It's unclear whether the February vote happened with legal advice that accounted for the 2015 decision.
"My understanding of the Supreme Court decision is that the state - our local government - must adhere to principles of religious neutrality that is not favouring one belief over another," Rochon said.
He was one of two council members who spoke about the potential financial cost of appearing to act in defiance of the country's highest court.
Coun. James Coates supported the motion.
"I feel that by dragging this out as long as we have, it'll end up costing the taxpayers of Albert County, Fundy Albert, considerable money from going to the Supreme Court — if it goes there, and it probably will — if it's pushed by the folks who say 'no prayer,'" Coates said.
Jeff Jonah, who introduced the prayer motion in February and questioned the legitimacy of the 2015 court ruling in comments to CBC News last month, opposed the change Tuesday.
"I never thought this would take on this face," Jonah said.
Coun. Jeff Land was the second vote against removing the prayer.
"I know we look after a lot of different faiths, and people don't like church and state, but this small prayer I don't think causes any conflict going forward, and that's my personal view," Land said.
Coun. Heather Ward Russell voted in favour, saying she believes in prayer but doesn't believe in mixing church and state.
Three people spoke ahead of the vote in favour of the prayer, including Pastor Paul Steeves with the Hillsborough Baptist Church. Their comments in support of prayer were met with applause from the audience.