By Patrick B. Craine

SAGUENAY, Quebec, February 25, 2010 ( – The mayor of Saguenay, Quebec, Jean Tremblay, is before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal this week to defend his practice of leading a prayer before city council meetings.

Mayor Tremblay is fighting complaints from the Mouvement laëque québécois (Quebec Secular Movement) and Alain Simoneau.  In addition to an order to cease the prayer, they are seeking $150,000 in damages.  They also want religious objects – a statue and a crucifix – to be removed from council chambers.

For Mayor Tremblay, who has been fighting this complaint since 2006, his stand is a matter of being true to his Catholic faith.  “When I reach the other side, I'll be able to be a little proud,” he told Cyberpresse yesterday.  “I'll be able to tell him: 'I fought for you.  I even went to trial for you.'  There is no finer argument.  It's extraordinary.”

“This fight, I do it because I love Christ,” he added.  “I want to go to heaven and that is the best fight of my whole life.”

Tremblay made headlines in 2008 when he defied a May 15, 2008 order from the Quebec Human Rights Commission to cease praying before the council meetings. He said the Commission's decision was non-binding, and indicated that it was discriminatory against people who want to pray.

“They think this contravenes human rights, I agree,” he said.  “Some 20 people around the table want to pray and to prevent them from doing so would infringe on their rights.”

The Commission adjudicator admitted that they could not enforce the ban, but said that the complainant had the opportunity to pursue the matter to the Tribunal.

The case before the Tribunal began on March 31, 2009, and resumed this week at the Palais de Justice de Saguenay.  The proceedings are scheduled to end on Friday.  The Tribunal is being chaired by Michelle Pauzé.

Cyberpresse reports that several other Quebec municipalities have given in to pressure to drop a regular  prayer at council meetings.  In November, La Tuque replaced its prayer with a moment of quiet meditation, stating that it allows members to pray as they wish.  Lac-Édouard dropped the prayer in January, and now read non-religious inspirational quotes instead, such as one from the German poet Goethe on January 13.

Further, Cyberpresse reports that the mayor of Trois Rivières has stopped leading the prayer following a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.  He now leaves the prayer up to the initiative of other members.  A spokeswoman stated that they are awaiting the Tribunal's decision regarding Saguenay.

Mayor Tremblay emphasized in a press release on Tuesday that he will continue reciting the prayer before meetings as he awaits the Tribunal's decision.


See related coverage:

Quebec Mayor Vows to Continue City Hall Prayer Despite Legal Threats

Quebec Mayor Vows to Continue Prayer Despite Human Rights Commission Order

Quebec Mayor Says Province Needs Catholic Heritage and Revival of Moral Values