Supreme Court to rule on right to pray at city council meetings

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule this morning on whether elected officials should have the right to recite prayers at city council meetings.

Jean Tremblay, mayor of Saguenay, Que., says reciting prayer respects Quebec’s Catholic heritage

Councillors in Saguenay, Que., make the sign of the cross and recite a 20-second prayer at every council meeting. (CBC Archives)

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule this morning on whether elected officials should have the right to recite prayers at council meetings.

The court's decision will help define freedom of religion in Canada.

The case dates back to 2007, when a resident in Saguenay, Que., complained about councillors praying in public at city hall.

The custom was that councillors stood, made the sign of the cross, and recited a 20-second prayer.

Alain Simoneau filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, requesting an end to prayers as well as the removal of religious symbols at city hall, including the crucifix and a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue.

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled in Simoneau's favour, concluding that prayer goes against the city's obligation to remain neutral on religion.

Saguenay officials were ordered to remove all religious symbols from the chamber, and Simoneau was awarded $30,000 in damages.

But Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay, an outspoken Catholic, refused to comply and appealed the decision.

In 2013, Quebec`s top court sided with Tremblay, ruling that prayers don't come into conflict with the moral convictions of residents.

The Quebec Court of Appeal also stated that the city's neutrality or democratic process was not undermined by religious symbols.

But one group, the Quebec Secular Movement, challenged the Court of Appeal's decision, and in January 2014 the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

"There are a lot of people who believe in God, and I hope they will have the privilege to pray in the future like we did in the past," Tremblay said at the time.

The mayor said he will not comment on the Supreme Court's decision today. He will respond at a news conference on Thursday, which will be held at Saguenay City Hall at 10:30 a.m.

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