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SAGUENAY, Quebec, March 8, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Despite protests within and outside the City Council meeting rooms, Mayor Jean Tremblay of Saguenay, Quebec continued the practice of a brief prayer before Monday night’s meeting.  Tremblay has been under fire in recent weeks and months for the public prayers, despite lawsuits, court rulings, and threats. 

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Last week the Mouvement laïque québécois (Quebec Secular Movement), which launched complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) and took Tremblay to court in February 2010, sent the Catholic mayor a letter ordering him to obey a tribunal decision to cease prayer at council meetings and remove religious symbols.  The Secular Movement gave Tremblay 48 hours to comply with the request and threatened legal action should he refuse.

The HRT ruled last month that Tremblay’s brief prayers at the beginning of council meetings infringe on people’s freedom of conscience.  Tremblay has begun the process to appeal the tribunal’s decision and is raising funds to support the cause.

During a press briefing on Monday night, Tremblay assured those present that he had not acted in contempt of the court by praying.  “I have a legal opinion signed by the firm Cain Lamarre to the effect that I was not in contempt of court,” said Tremblay.  He said he would not have prayed at the meeting had his action been considered contempt of court.

The council room on Monday was packed with about 150 spectators.  Police were on hand, a provision made by Tremblay to ensure crowd control; about 50 people were not permitted in the council room.

The general public was invited to speak at an open microphone, expressing their agreement or disagreement with Tremblay’s appeal and cause.  Many expressed opposition, saying the city of Saguenay was now known just for the Catholic mayor and his religious controversy.  Despite hostility, Tremblay reportedly remained calm, welcoming and encouraging speakers to express themselves. 

Members of the group, Citoyens pour la démocratie à Saguenay (Citizens for Democracy), who launched a YouTube video campaign against the mayor, continue to express opposition.  The group says it believes the mayor is using his position to impose his Catholic views.  “We think this debate is more divisive than inclusive,” Dubois said.

“We oppose the fact that he says he has all the people of Saguenay behind him,” said Eric Dubois of the Citizens for Democracy.  The group’s video has citizens of Saguenay appear one by one saying that the mayor does not speak in their name.

However, Tremblay says his persistence in the face of opposition not only holds true to his own Catholic faith, but the professed faith of 95 percent of Saguenay and the religious heritage of the province. 

“I didn’t go into politics just to do accounting. I went into politics to make society advance, and a society advances as long as it’s supported by values,” he said. “A serious problem we’ve got in today’s society is that we’ve abandoned our values. That’s why things are going so badly.”

The mayor’s campaign to raise funds to offset the costs of the court appeal continues to draw support and donations from across Canada and the United States.  Many people, said Tremblay, want the religious heritage of Quebec to remain intact.

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