Alberta Premier Jason Kenney describes the importance of religious freedom in public life at the first Provincial Christian Prayer Breakfast in five years. The Nov. 25 event brought in MLAs, priests, pastors and other guests from across the province.Kyle Greenham, Grandin Media

Premier highlights religious freedom at revived provincial prayer breakfast

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is reviving the tradition of a provincial Christian prayer breakfast, calling it one sign of respect for religious freedom in a diverse society.

“This prayer gathering today is not a threat to pluralism. It is pluralism in action,” Kenney told the nearly 700 legislature members, pastors and other guests on Nov. 25 at the Edmonton Expo Centre.

“An authentic pluralism is one that truly respects the beliefs of our fellow citizens, and recognizes that for millions of Albertans their beliefs are informed and rooted in religious traditions,” he said.

The event was the first of its kind in five years. Reaction exploded on social media, with many criticizing it as an attack on separation of church and state, and an example of religion interfering with political affairs.

“Much of that criticism seems to focus on this being a Christian event in particular,” said the United Conservative Party premier, himself a Catholic. “It is peculiar that those criticizing my participation in a Christian gathering are very silent when I’ve participated in dozens of events organized by other faith communities, including those of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha’i, and other faiths.”

A prayer breakfast with the premier was an annual tradition that ended under Alberta’s previous NDP government. The event was initiated by UCP MLAs Dan Williams and Michaela Glasgo and organized by Pam Davidson, a former chair of the UCP Innisfail-Sylvan Lake nomination committee. They hope the breakfast continues as a way to honour both people of faith and to pray for the province’s political representatives.

While he received a storm of social media criticism for his appearance at the Provincial Christian Prayer Breakfast, Premier Jason Kenney says the majority of Canadians understand these events are vital to a truly pluralistic and multicultural society.Kyle Greenham, Grandin Media

Political attendance was dominated by members of the UCP, but the Alberta government did not sponsor or pay for the event. According to an email from the office of MLA Williams, all ministers and MLAs were required to purchase their own tickets.

“Just that this event happened says a lot,” said Ryan Beaupré, a University of Alberta student who attended the breakfast. “It’s important to unite Christians in this ecumenical way just to say that faith is important in our public life.”

For Beaupré, gatherings of this kind are critical to a genuinely diverse and pluralistic society.

“I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how faith and public life are supposed to work together. It’s not immediately clear since we live in a liberal democracy,” he said. “But we don’t want our faith to just leave the public sphere, that’s not pluralism. That’s secularism.

“If we’re really going to get behind this idea that multiculturalism is our strength in Canada, then everyone must be able to live out their most deeply held beliefs in the public sphere — disagreements and conflicts come what may. A peace that makes us deny our deeply held beliefs is not a peace we want.”

Religious freedom has recently been challenged across the country. An Ontario Court of Appeal decision has forced physicians who disagree with euthanasia and abortion to make direct referrals for these procedures. As well, the Quebec government’s Bill 21 now forbids religious wear for people employed in the public sector.

Only days before the breakfast, the Alberta legislature’s standing committee for private member’s bills voted down a controversial bill aimed at protecting religious freedom and conscience rights. Bill 207,  drafted by Williams, aimed to reaffirm the rights of health care practitioners to refuse to provide services that conflict with their moral or religious convictions. Many criticized the bill as a way to suppress access to medical services in the name of religious liberty.

During the breakfast, Kenney did not acknowledge Bill 207 or the controversy it stirred.

Pat Nixon

However, the value of a public faith was a recurrent theme among the speakers. Several Christian pastors offered prayers, and Pat Nixon, pastor and founder of the inner-city Mustard Seed, spoke on his own faith journey. Nixon is father of two UCP MLAs, Jason Dixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre) and Jeremy Nixon (Calgary-Klein.)

Christian charity brought Nixon himself out of a life on the streets. It’s in this service to others that faith plays the most important role in public life, he said.

“That’s crucial to bridging our faith with our community,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the way that people reached out to me and brought me off the streets and in the way we reach out and care for each other as well. It’s the kind of religion that made me who I am, and the kind of religion we have the freedom to practise today.”

With the challenges seen in other provinces and the backlash he received for speaking at this Christian event, the premier says his Catholic faith has not been a hindrance to his political career, but an asset.

“Personally, it’s essential to my vocation to be grounded in my faith,” said Kenney. “As we see with Bill 21 in Quebec, there’s an increasingly hostile environment for people of faith in public life. That’s unfortunate, but I think it’s coming from a small minority of people. I think the vast majority of Canadians understand the open and natural approach to pluralism.

“It doesn’t concern me too much, but we need to be mindful of the need to maintain the basic respect for religious freedom in our public square.”


7 thoughts on “Premier highlights religious freedom at revived provincial prayer breakfast

  1. It’s interesting that you would highlight Jason Nixon.
    One would expect that someone who is the son of a pastor and a professed Christian would treat a woman who complained to him about sexual harassment in the workplace (among other things she was offered a new set of tires if she had sex with her boss) with such disdain and lack of conscience.
    Not only did Nixon not follow basic rules of human decency or Christian morality, he did not follow provincial health and safety regulations when he fired the woman – even though he was the owner of a workplace health and safety company.
    Did he fire the contractor who abused the woman? Nope.
    It is the gross hypocrisy of right-wing Christians that so many cannot stomach.
    If they want respect, they might try being, you know, “Christian” in their daily actions.
    If “Christian” politicians want us to believe that Christianity inserted into politics is a good thing, there’s a long list off policies and actions they can put forward that protect the most vulnerable, recognizes the humanity of the poor, and turns away from the idea that profit trumps decency.
    Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48)

    1. good point…yes lots of hypocrisy…certainly.
      Still does not over shadow the fact of decay of religious freedom and freedom of conscience in this country of Canada.
      good point, yes very good point.

  2. First, I read he did not pay for the prayer breakfast…second he attends and addresses other religious events with other religions. Why is it when this involves Christians there is such an aggressive measure against it.?? This country is anti Christian and he is right to say our beliefs recognize our roots…that is not political, that is being human with sacred trust passed from generation to generation. I am very proud to be Catholic and Christian and I will speak my truth as well as listen to others speak theirs..How is that interfering with politics???

  3. Attending a religious themed event is fine, but the Premier sponsoring one featuring a specific religion is not. 24% of Canadians are non-believers, and another 6% or so are of other faiths, so holding a Christian prayer breakfast is not a sign of diversity, it tells the rest of us that we don’t matter.

    1. And other prayer breakfasts from other denominations is diversity.?.. oh another aggressive attack on Christian. Kenny is right, religion freedom is so disrespected in Canada,. I believe you misunderstand diversity and rootedness in sacred trust in religion passed from generation to generation…I am proud to be Christian and I will speak my truth in the public square as well as listen to others with their truth… How is that political. More so your idea of diversity is your own idea of what society should look like, not really the truth in diverse discussion about rooted truths within our religions.. how is a prayer breakfast so political to you that even politicians can’t practise and be truthful to their rooted faith..???

  4. “Christians” who drive with complete disregard for other drivers would be wise to leave the fish decal off of their bumpers. The same applies here.

    1. Really…and I would suspect that those who drive with Christians have no problem with the fish that you seem to have. I will display in public my sacred religious trusts whether you like it or not..your idea of diversity seems to be a little narrow..

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