A Canadian atheist has filed a $5,000 lawsuit against his municipal council because its members recite the Lord's Prayer at the start of every meeting, which causes him "anguish, discrimination, exclusion, rejection and loss of enjoyment of life."
Peter Ferguson, supported by a representative of the Secular Ontario group, says his lawsuit is not an attack on Christianity, as he doesn't believe "in the Christian savior God, nor any other god or gods, nor in any supernatural being or 'higher power' whatever." The Kimberley, Ontario resident claims his grievance is more about getting local officials to comply with the law by dropping the long-held council tradition.
"The religious aspect is secondary. It's the legal aspect that's important," he told a news agency. "It's a matter of principle. I don't believe our politicians should be breaking the law."
The law Ferguson references in his lawsuit is from an Ontario Court of Appeals ruling in 1999 that required the Penetanguishene town council to stop saying the Lord's Prayer in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Ferguson claims the ruling applies to all of Ontario, and that by persisting in their recitation of the Lord's Prayer, the council is violating his right to freedom of conscience and religion.
A representative of Ferguson's county made it clear that council members were not required to recite the prayer, which the Gospel accounts in the Bible say Jesus taught his disciples to say.
"No one is forced to take part. They are invited if they choose. We have added the silent reflection for anyone who wishes to, whichever deity or thought process they follow," Henry Clarke, Peterborough's acting mayor, reportedly said.
Duncan McKinlay, chairman of the Grey County council that oversees Ferguson's town of Kimberly, told the National Post he welcomes discussion on the issue, despite being told by constituents that pursuing the case would be a waste of time and money.
"Grey County was settled by people based on tolerance," the Grey County council chairman told the publication. "I think there's a fair tolerance. If somebody had another prayer, we would have included it."
Ferguson has said that if he is victorious in his lawsuit, the $5,000 would go to the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust.
Secular Ontario, whose director is Ferguson's attorney, says on its website that it works to "to promote and encourage harmony among the province's diverse communities of ideologies, and cultures."
"The population of Ontario embraces a variety of religious sects and some do not acknowledge any deity. Municipalities serve all residents and cannot be seen as favoring one particular religion. Therefore, municipalities have to remain secular so that all of its citizens can feel included," reads a statement on the group's website.
Ferguson submitted his lawsuit on Monday, but the case will likely not be reviewed by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice until October.