SAGUENAY, Quebec, June 13, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Quebec mayor's long fight to defend the practice of saying a prayer at the beginning of city council meetings has ended in victory.
The Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a previous ruling by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal against the mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, and stated that reciting a prayer, and the presence of religious symbols in city hall, does not violate governmental religious neutrality.
In the decision written by Justice Guy Gagnon, the appeal court said neutrality does not require “that society be cleansed of all denominational reality, including that which falls within its cultural history.”
The judge said the Christian symbols in Saguenay, a crucifix and a Sacred Heart statue, had been present in city hall for decades, but for a large part of Quebecers these symbols have lost their religious significance and are seen as merely historical artifacts.
Noting that Quebec is awash in Christian symbolism — including the religious reference in the French version of Canada’s national anthem, the white cross on Quebec’s flag, and the cross atop Mount Royal — Justice Gagnon wrote that nothing in the evidence suggests that these symbols indicate the city of Saguenay is “under the yoke of the Catholic religion.”
“Examples of Christian symbolism abound without any evidence that they compromise the government’s neutrality,” the judge stated.
Mayor Tremblay has been fighting for his right to pray at city council meetings since a ruling by the Quebec Human Rights Commission ordered him to cease praying and remove all religious symbols from city hall in 2008.
At that time, the Human Rights tribunal concluded that “since there were still vestiges of Catholicism in the prayer and religious symbols, the city was favoring one religion over others.”
A citizen, Christian Joncas, launched the complaint against the mayor’s prayer. He was joined by Alain Simoneau, who filed a second complaint on behalf of the Mouvement laïque québécois (Quebec Secular Movement).
Simoneau objected to the prayer because it forced him to “embrace a concept recognizing a form of divine supremacy.”
In February 2011, the tribunal again ruled that prayer infringes on people’s freedom of conscience and ordered Mayor Tremblay to pay Simoneau $30,000 in damages.
The mayor then took the Human Rights tribunal ruling to the Quebec Court of Appeal.
In his vindication of Mayor Tremblay, Justice Gagnon said that there was no evidence that the prayer recited before the opening of council meetings was imposing religious views on citizens — or shaping government actions.
Moreover, he concluded Simoneau is not someone “particularly vulnerable to any message that is not in harmony with his moral values.”
In a press conference following the court ruling, Mayor Tremblay said he was very happy with the decision and thanked all those who had donated money toward his legal costs.
Mayor Tremblay is an outspoken defender of Quebec’s traditional Catholic Christian heritage. In 2007, he denounced the landslide of secularism that has overwhelmed Quebec since the 1960s and told a government commission that Quebec must revive moral values and needs to retain its Catholic heritage.
“I appeal to Quebecers to stand up for the preservation of our values and traditions, for what is most beautiful in Quebec,” Tremblay said at the conclusion of the press conference.
The Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, added his praise to the Quebec Court of Appeal's ruling, saying it was a “wise decision” to uphold the freedom to pray at meetings of elected officials.
“When the occasion is appropriate, respectful prayer has its place in a pluralistic Quebec,” said Bishop Lacroix.