There is a fairly important case coming before the Supreme Court soon, revolving around prayer in public meetings. And a Québec secularist group desperately needs your help to fight it.
Back in 2006, Alain Simoneau, a resident of Saguenay at the time, filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal over the prayers that started every municipal city council meeting. He actually won the case in 2011. But in 2013, the Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, based partly on the argument that since 2008, the very sectarian (read, Catholic) prayer was replaced with a more non-denominational prayer. More on that it a moment, but first, let’s look at the opposing side.
The Mayor of Saguenay was, and still is, Jean Tremblay, and if that name sounds familiar to you… well, he’s got a history of being a jerk to nonbelievers (and to minorities in general, natch; you’ll find plenty more stuff linked to at McGuire’s blog). Tremblay is a hard-core Catholic thug who even wrote a book about how important it is to believe in God (English title: Believing changes everything: Why faith transforms life). He just loves to play the nasty identity politics game so popular in Québec. In one press conference he said,
The first thing that Jacques Cartier did when he arrived in Québec was to set up a cross. Early in the Values Charter flap, before the exemptions for Catholic symbols was included, Algerian-born PQ member Djemila Benhabib – a noted secular activist, and outspoken anti-Muslim – pushed for removing the crucifix from the national assembly… and Tremblay’s response was:
It’s not the [secular] charter in and out of itself [that peeves him off]. It’s having someone whose name I can’t even pronounce come from Algeria, who doesn’t understand our culture at all, but she’s going to make the rules.
While the PQ and Pauline Marois at first condemned Tremblay’s comments (by saying the Benhabib’s integration was
exemplary – which isn’t really much of an improvement), they ultimately caved into the right-wing pressure and made the Charter more appealing to people like Tremblay.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Tremblay is taking this fight as far as it can go. And it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s using the issue as a wedge to divide Québec by saying that it’s a battle between what he consider to be Québec’s values – which appear by his definition to be bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, and Catholic privilege – and Canada’s.
Oh, and I mentioned that Tremblay won his Court of Appeals case because he started using a “non-denominational” prayer. Let’s see what that “non-denominational” prayer looks like:
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.”
“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.”
Presumably those are the non-denomination Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Maybe something is getting lost in translation.
Anyway, so the case is going to the Supreme Court of Canada, and here’s where things get grim. If you’ve been following American freethinker news, you’ve surely heard about the terrible loss in their Supreme Court of a similar case. Granted, our Supreme Court isn’t as fucked up as theirs, but that should be a worrying wake-up call to Canadian secularists.
To make matters worse, this is going to be an expensive battle, and Tremblay has never had much trouble raking in the dough. Back in 2011, he had raised $181,000 while the Québec Secular Movement (Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ)) had only managed to raise $25,000. That’s a jarring difference.
So, Canadian atheists, you’re needed now. The MLQ is asking for donations to help with the legal battle. (Their site is in French, so if you need an English translation, here is some help form Google Translate.) A Supreme Court case is extremely expensive, and the more they can spend, the more – and better – the legal advice they can get, which could make the difference.
Remember, this is the Supreme Court of Canada, so their ruling will not only affect Québec, it will affect all of us. Please help this very important cause.
Sean McGuire (aka Godless Poutine) at My Secret Atheist Blog notes that you can also donate via the Canadian Secular Alliance.