Canada has ‘evolved’ beyond prayer

Canada has ‘evolved’ beyond prayer

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that prayers cannot be recited before municipal council meetings in the Quebec town of Saguenay.

In a ruling that could impact on towns and cities throughout the country, the court unanimously agreed that the reading of a Catholic prayer at council meetings infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

The court found that the evolution of Canadian society had given rise to:

A concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard.

The ruling puts an end to an eight-year legal battle that pitted atheist Alain Simoneau and a secular-rights organization against Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay, above.

One major Canadian city immediately notice of the ruling. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson suspended prayers at a city council meeting today pending a review of the decision.

Law professor Errol Mendes said:

I think it’s a fairly strong signal to the councils across the country that they really have to look at their practices. Essentially, the court is basically putting forward a very strong statement, not so much on freedom of religion but freedom from religion.

In the Saguenay case, Simoneau filed an initial complaint in 2007.

City officials introduced a bylaw in 2008 that changed the prayer with a new one it deemed more neutral and delayed the opening of council by two minutes to allow citizens a window to return follow the recital.

But in 2011, Quebec’s human rights tribunal ordered an end to the prayers, demanded that a crucifix in the city council chamber be removed and awarded damages to Simoneau.

The Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the tribunal’s decision in 2013.

The appeals court expressed some reservations about religious symbols in the council chamber, but concluded the city imposed no religious views on its citizens and ruled that reciting a prayer did not violate the religious neutrality of the city. The lower court said if the recitation interfered with Simoneau’s moral values, the interference was trivial.

The Supreme Court of Canada disagreed.

This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.

When all is said and done, the state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others.

Tremblay, a very popular and outspoken mayor in the community 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, mounted his legal battle and raised money from supporters through the city’s website. He said it was a battle to maintain the province’s Roman Catholic heritage.

But the high court added that celebrating and preserving religious heritage cannot justify the state engaging in a discriminatory practice for religious purposes.

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said the Liberal government will address the neutrality issue.

We’re going to analyze the judgment and see its impact on Quebec legislation and on what we intend to do.

Hat tip: Dave T

13 responses to “Canada has ‘evolved’ beyond prayer”

  1. Broga says:

    This is the sign of a mature democracy leaving an age of superstition behind it. I hope Eric Pickles knows of this although I think he is too suffocated by religion to learn from it.

  2. L.Long says:

    Wait for it….I can hear the screams of the persecuted xtians becoming louder!!!!

  3. Cali Ron says:

    3 cheers for Canada!! To bad America’s supreme court is dominated by conservative christians so that won’t happen here anytime soon.

    Yes, L.Long, I can hear it now. Wailing and gnashing of teeth, oh the persecution. We can’t subject other people to our prayers anymore, boo hoo hoo! I’m afraid it will take a whole lot more than that for the persecution christians think they are experiencing to compare to the persecution they have been dishing out for centuries on LBGT, women, atheists, etc. What would they do if, for imaginary god’s sake, they actually were ever persecuted. They’d be dumbstruck, no doubt!

  4. Stephen Mynett says:

    I wonder if Cheryl Rios ( will change her mind about moving to Canada after this.

  5. Vanity Unfair says:

    “Tremblay, a very popular and outspoken mayor in the community 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, mounted his legal battle and raised money from supporters through the city’s website. He said it was a battle to maintain the province’s Roman Catholic heritage.”

    I suppose he has a point. However, when it comes to heritage there are other, older ones. I copied this from

    The Abenaki tribe
    The Algonquin tribe
    The Attikamek tribe
    The Eastern Cree
    The Huron tribe
    The Inuit
    The Maliseet
    The Micmac tribe
    The Mohawk tribe
    The Montagnais
    The Naskapi
    The Ojibway

    Or did he mean the French inheritance?

  6. Stuart H. says:

    If the US experience was also common to Canada, wouldn’t the real Christian heritage to native people have been smallpox?

  7. sailor1031 says:

    He meant the french-canadian roman-catholic heritage. To them the first nations peoples are still “les sauvages”. Saguenay is an old-established (for Canada) isolated and very conservative region around Lac St Jean. Because of its isolation it wasn’t so much a part of the “quiet revolution” that, among other things, emptied the catholic churches back in the ’60s and made Quebec the most secular part of Canada. This would only take place in Saguenay or some remote backwater like it; it wouldn’t be in Montreal or Quebec city or “New Quebec”.

  8. Broga says:

    Stuart H.: I remember reading that the Christian missionaries were part of the imaginative scheme of sending blankets impregnated with small pox to native people.

  9. Peterat says:

    The SCC decision went much farther than just denying the “public prayer” portion of meetings and likely, as has been pointed out above, will have other Canadian xtians – particulalry catlicks – writhing about their current and historical state-sanctioned privileges. Keep it coming!!
    From a Canuck, prouder than ever!
    And Stuart H. the missionaries didn’t “send” smallbox infested blankets and clothes to the natives, they traded them for beaver pelts! So they weren’t exactly gifted to them, scumbags nonetheless!

  10. Peterat says:

    Proud to be Canadian, and then you read about this at the hands of the xtians!!

  11. dennis says:

    “the state must remain neutral in this regard” oh! to hear those words from the SCOTUS. a dreamer I am this morning in TEXAS.
    As for ms Rios I wonder how she feels today, persecuted I hope @Stephen Mynett.

  12. sailor1031 says:

    While the missionaries certainly introduced various highly infectious diseases to the aboriginal people that were devastating among populations that had no antibodies, I can find no record that the French Company, Reval Freres or the Hudson Bay Company ever supplied disease-tainted blankets or other trade goods to the first nations bands with which they traded. Would have been very bad for business to deliberately kill off the fur supplier&customer base.

    As for the residential “schools” the government ones were no better. As for “persecuted” catholics wherever they may be in North America – screw them!

  13. Peterat says:

    Sailor 101: 100% agree, but the residential schools were all run by either the Anglican or Cathloic churches and paid to do so by the federal government. And, neither of those insitutions are on the hook – other than an “apology” – because the federal government was behind it, we’ll never see or hear the end of it, sadly for everyone involved!