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Humanist association plans legal action against B.C. city for council prayer

BCHA: Inaugural Parksville meeting included ‘explicitly Christian’ prayer
Parksville is facing legal action over a prayer spoken at council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 7, 2022. (City of Parksville Youtube)

The BC Humanist Association (BCHA) says it intends to take legal action against the City of Parksville for a breach of religious neutrality.

Parksville council’s inaugural meeting in November 2022 included an “explicitly Christian” prayer by pastor Andrew Gulevich of the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church, a BCHA news release noted.

The BCHA wrote to Parksville following the 2022 municipal elections, as well as before it prepared its 2020 report on prayers in municipal governments. Parksville’s 2018 inaugural council meeting also began with a Christian prayer.

On April 11, the BCHA’s legal counsel sent a letter to the city stating it was prepared to “commence legal proceedings seeking all available relief and costs against the City of Parksville without further notice.”

BCHA has received no reply from the city as of April 23, according to Ian Bushfield, executive director.

Legal proceedings are not yet filed, but “we’re writing them up right now, basically,” Bushfield said.

Parksville will be the first municipality to have legal proceedings brought against it by the BCHA over prayer in a council meeting, according to Bushfield.

“We’re looking at municipalities across all of British Columbia and we’ve gotten responses from five of the seven that we’ve identified, that is including the prayer in 2022, and the other one we’re still looking at is Vancouver,” he added.

The City of Parksville did not comment as the matter has been referred to its lawyers.

READ MORE: Parksville moves to Stage 2 outdoor water restrictions May 1

Bushfield would not say exactly what BCHA will be seeking in court as the files are still being completed.

“What we’re basically looking for is a commitment that Parksville keeps its future meetings secular,” he said. “We recognize every councillor and mayor has their own set of beliefs and we’re not trying to malign or say that those are invalid. People can hold their beliefs and pray in their private time but it’s the formal inclusion of prayer at the start of a meeting excludes the non-religious and that’s the problem that we’re focused on.”

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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