Saguenay prayer case hearing begins at Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada today will begin hearing whether saying a Catholic prayer before city hall meetings in Saguenay, Que., infringes on a person’s freedom of religion.

Supreme Court to decide whether Catholic prayers at city hall meetings a violation of freedom of religion

FILE PHOTO: Jean Tremblay, mayor of Saguenay, as seen in 2012. He has been fighting for the right to recite a prayer at public city hall meetings since a human rights complaint was filed by a Saguenay resident in 2006. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Supreme Court of Canada today will begin hearing whether saying a Catholic prayer before city hall meetings in the Saguenay infringes on a person’s freedom of religion.

The case originated in Quebec’s Saguenay region in 2006, when area resident Alain Simoneau filed a human rights complaint with the province.

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal in 2011 agreed with Simoneau and ordered Saguenay City Hall to end prayers at public meetings and remove religious symbols, including a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue.

Saguenay mayor and devout Catholic Jean Tremblay refused to comply with the court’s decision and brought the case to the Quebec Court of Appeal, which last year ruled that prayers at city hall do not infringe on a person’s freedom of religion.

Simoneau’s cause was taken up by the Quebec Secular Movement (MLQ), who appealed that decision and brought the case to the Supreme Court.

Saguenay mayor Tremblay said he wants to preserve his right to publicly express his faith and to protect Quebec culture, which he said is largely based on the Catholic religion.

“For me, prayer the relationship with God it’s the foundation of my life. I know that I’m going to Heaven after I die. So, it would be very painful for me to lose this case. But I have good faith we will win,” Tremblay said.

Canada’s highest court agreed in early 2014 to hear the case.

Judgment could only come in 2015

Lawyer Jean-Claude Hébert has a particular interest in questions of fundamental freedoms. He told CBC Radio-Canada he is happy the Supreme Court will finally take a position on public prayer.

“I think it takes an arbiter. We have the right to know, as citizens, what rights each of us have, what are the limits of these rights and what kinds of accommodations society claim for these kinds of issues,” Hébert said.

The Supreme Court judgment, which may only be rendered in 2015, would have a major impact on municipalities all over the country.

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