Supreme Court to hear the Saguenay city hall prayer case

The Supreme Court of Canada says it will hear the case of reciting prayer in Saguenay's city hall.

Catholic Mayor Jean Tremblay fought for years to say a prayer before public meetings

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay's fight say prayers at city hall will come before the Supreme Court. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to consider whether elected officials should have the right to recite a prayer at Saguenay city council meetings.

The case involves a challenge by the Quebec Secular Movement (MLQ).

MLQ president Lucie Jobin said the organization is delighted with the news. 

"This case brings the difficult and delicate question of the religious neutrality of the state to the forefront," Jobin said.

The fight to say prayers at Saguenay's city has been led by Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay, an outspoken Catholic.

He released a statement on Thursday, saying he would not be commenting until he had time to review the SCOC’s reasons for its decision.

The case dates back to 2007, when Saguenay resident Alain Simoneau filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.

Read the prayer

Before the opening of each public meeting, Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay​ crosses himself "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" and recites a prayer. 

The 20-second prayer (said in French) ends with another sign of the cross and an "Amen."

The prayer: 

"O God, all powerful and eternal, from whom comes all power and wisdom, we are assembled in your presence to ensure the well-being and prosperity of our city.

Grant us, we beseech thee, the light and energy necessary so that our deliberations contribute to promote the honour and glory of your name and the spiritual and material happiness of our city."

Simoneau requested an end to prayers at public meetings as well as the removal of religious symbols at city hall, including the crucifix and a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue.

In 2008, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled in Simoneau's favour, concluding that prayer goes against the city's obligation to remain neutral on religion.

The Tribunal ordered the mayor of Saguenay to remove the religious symbols from city hall and to stop praying before council meetings. It also a awarded Simoneau ​$30,000 in damages. 

Tremblay successfully appealed that decision, and in 2013 the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that prayers at city hall do not infringe on a person’s freedom of religion.

The Quebec Secular Movement responded by taking its challenge to the country's top court, which will now hear the case.