Prayer ban to be appealed by Quebec mayor

The mayor of Saguenay, Que., says he will appeal a decision by the province's human rights tribunal that bans prayer at city council.

Human rights tribunal orders $30,000 payment to man who complained

The mayor of Saguenay, Que., says he will appeal a decision by the province's human rights tribunal that bans prayer at city council.

Jean Tremblay, the mayor of Saguenay, Que., says he is confident a human rights tribunal decision banning prayer at city council meetings will be overturned. ((Saguenay))

Last Friday, the tribunal ordered the council to stop reciting a prayer before meetings and remove a crucifix and Sacred Heart statue from meeting rooms.

Council was also ordered to pay $30,000 in damages to the local resident who complained about the religious symbols.

The tribunal was ruling on a dispute that began four years ago after a complaint from resident Alain Simoneau, Tremblay said.

In his decision, Judge Michele Pauzé ruled that reading the prayer infringed on Simoneau’s liberty of conscience.

"We're not happy [with] that and we will go and appeal," Mayor Jean Tremblay said Wednesday.

The mayor said he never asked that anyone adopt his religious beliefs, but he noted that 90 per cent of his constituents are Catholic. He said he feels they should be allowed to express their faith before council.

No one complains when leaders of other religions perform prayers at public ceremonies, he said, adding he thinks "reasonable accommodation" doesn't seem to extend to Catholics.

The mayor says 90 per cent of the people in Saguenay are Catholic. ((CBC))

Tremblay said religious symbols have been displayed in the council chamber for a long time.

"It's our tradition and it's our culture to do that," he said. "We have faith. It's not bad to have faith. It's good for us.

"We must renew with our roots."

Marie-Michele Poisson, head of the Quebec Secular Movement, praised the tribunal's ruling, saying she believes prayers have no place in a public assembly.

The group, which supported Simoneau, said it would have accepted swapping out the prayer for a quiet moment of reflection.

Tremblay said the prayer the council does is a "universal prayer" and fits all religions.

The mayor said he's confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal but mounting legal fees are a problem. He said the city is setting up a website and a phone line to ask for donations for legal fees.

Saguenay is not the first Quebec city to deal with concerns about prayers at city hall, In 2006, the provincial tribunal ruled that the City of Laval had to abandon prayers before council meetings.