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Human rights commission tosses complaint on Saskatoon city councillor's prayer

SASKATOON — The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has dismissed a complaint against the City of Saskatoon and one of its councillors over a prayer.

Ashu Solo filed the complaint in March 2013 after Coun. Randy Donauer recited a prayer at a volunteer appreciation banquet the previous year.

"Mr. Solo says the prayer was coercive and made him feel marginalized,'' chief commissioner David Arnot wrote in a ruling released Thursday.

"He told the investigator that he felt he was treated as a second-class citizen. Mr. Solo says eating food blessed by a Christian prayer is contrary to his beliefs so he chose not to eat.''

Arnot said witnesses told a commission investigator that Donauer gave a prayer or grace at the banquet. Some witnesses said it was generic. Others said it contained references associated with Christianity. All witnesses agreed it was brief.

Regardless, Arnot said, it wasn't the right time or place for a prayer.

"The recitation of a Christian prayer at this event represents poor judgment,'' he wrote.

"It was disrespectful and insensitive to a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-theist audience. The volunteers attending the dinner, like the citizens of Saskatoon, have varied religious, spiritual and cultural traditions. The decision to incorporate a Christian prayer ignored this reality.''

Arnot said he has no doubt that Solo was offended, but the commissioner also said he doesn't accept that the prayer impeded Solo from acting on his beliefs.

"Given the context of the prayer, any interference with Mr. Solo's ability to act in accordance with his beliefs would be nothing more than trivial or insubstantial. I do not believe Mr. Solo can establish that the prayer caused him sufficient harm to breach the (Saskatchewan Human Rights) Code.''

The city appears to have recognized Solo's concerns by eliminating prayer from volunteer appreciation banquets, Arnot noted.

That doesn't mean prayer or spiritual ceremonies can never be combined with municipal activities, he added. State promotion of multiculturalism does not violate the code.

"However, it seems that religious practices should not typically or regularly be incorporated into either the core function of government or social events organized by municipalities. The adoption of a general practice of reciting prayers at municipal events is contrary to the code.''

Solo had complained once before to the human rights commission about a "Merry Christmas'' message on city buses, but that objection was also tossed.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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