No Praying in Saguenay City Council

by | April 15, 2015

It’s official,

The Supreme Court has ruled that a Quebec [city of Saguenay] town must stop reciting a prayer at the start of city council meetings, in a ruling that spells out the limits on faith in the public sphere in Canada.

The SCC decision is available at the Lexum website.

Stay tuned for more info and updates.

8 thoughts on “No Praying in Saguenay City Council

  1. scott ladoucier

    Holy crap, I thought this day would never come. Awesome news!

  2. Geff

    Prayer in public is comparable to second hand smoke. You have every right to smoke but when I’m forced to breathe it in it becomes offensive.

  3. dusttodust

    Queue the bleating about religious oppression and discrimination. Boo freaking hoo. Keep it all to yourselves and out of the public business and we’re all good.
    This is great news.
    Thanks for bringing this story to our attention.

  4. Diane Garlick

    Let’s trade Supreme Courts, shall we?

    –Diane, Michigan

  5. Indi

    The ruling was *unanimous*. How cool is that? I knew the old bastards would come through, but I’m stoked that the decision was unanimous. It was pretty darn clear, too – there’s no wiggle room for stuff like making council prayers vaguer and more non-denominational.

    I’ve only just skimmed the Court’s decision (in English, of course – I don’t have the French chops to read the subtleties of a legal document at that level), and there is a *lot* of interesting shit in there. I mean A *LOT*.

    Here’s just a sampling:

    > [T]he reference to the supremacy of God [in the Charter] does not limit the scope of freedom of conscience and religion and does not have the effect of granting a privileged status to theistic religious practices. Contrary to what the respondents suggest, I do not believe that the preamble can be used to interpret this freedom in this way.

    Yes, they blew off the Preamble argument!

    > I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals.

    This is just one of many comments that appear to be directed at the “Secular” Charter the Parti Québécois was pushing a while back. The SCC seems to be hinting that they will strike it down if it comes before them.

    > The state may not act in such a way as to create a preferential public space that favours certain religious groups and is hostile to others. It follows that the state may not, by expressing its own religious preference, promote the participation of believers to the exclusion of non-believers or vice-versa.

    Here’s another example. On the surface this comment is directed at the idea of promoting broad, non-denominational religious stuff – for example, “non-denominational” prayers are not okay because they promote religion in general while flipping off nonbelievers. That’s good! But if you look deeper – particularly at the bolded part – you can see that it is also giving a warning about “no hijab”-style laws.

    > In short, there is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another. No such inference can be drawn from the state’s silence. In this regard, I will say that the benevolent neutrality to which the Court of Appeal referred is not really compatible with the concept of true neutrality. As understood by that court, neutrality would in the instant case require tolerance for the state’s profession of a clearly identified religious belief on the basis of tolerance for its history and culture. I do not believe that is the sense of true state neutrality with respect to freedom of conscience and religion.

    A lot of time was spent discussing the difference between “true neutrality” and “absolute neutrality” – and between “true neutrality” and “secularism”. This is one of the areas I really have to dig into, but the SCC seems to be basically saying that the complete and absolute banning of religious symbols from the public sphere is a no-go.

    But at the same time, the SCC seems to make it clear that true neutrality does not go so far as allowing the state to maintain religious “traditions” just because they’re there.

    > It is true that, unlike the practice from before the By-law was adopted, the one provided for in the By-law included a period of two minutes between the end of the prayer and the official opening of the meeting. This time would enable citizens who did not want to attend the recitation of the prayer to leave the chamber and to re-enter it only after the prayer had been completed. This solution adopted by the council of inviting citizens to physically leave the chamber for the duration of the prayer highlights the exclusive effect of the practice. Rather than limiting the religious nature of the By-law, the possibility so afforded accentuated it.

    The argument was that Simoneau wasn’t *forced* to sit through the prayer (he could leave until it was over), therefore it wasn’t discriminatory. Here the SCC tears that argument apart.

    I could go on! Indi’s going to be a busy beaver this weekend.

    Note that the SCC punted the question of religious *symbols* (like a crucifix) in public areas, and they allowed an escape hatch for prayer in Parliament (based on parliamentary privilege).

    I can’t wait to really dig in to the ruling this weekend.

    1. billybob

      I liked most of the decision.

      My favourite part of the decision was that they recognized nonbelievers as a group with standing.

      Glad they slammed the door on if you don’t like the prayer leave the room scam.

      Will every municipal council that refuses to stop saying a prayer have to be taken to court?

      1. Indi

        > Will every municipal council that refuses to stop saying a prayer have to be taken to court?

        In theory, yes. In practice, doubtful.

        Naturally, many politicians will bluster and rattle sabres to put on a good show of defending the faith. But there won’t be many stupid enough to actually let it go to court, especially if people start holding them responsible for wasting public money on a stupid fight. They’ll bark and froth about “atheist agendas” and play the wounded martyr card (“oh, I’d *love* to fight this, but we can’t afford to”) – expect a marked increase in nasty statements about atheists – but only the most loopy will actually let it get to the point where they’ll end up having to pay out damages.

        Let them put on their little performances of piety now while it’s hot in the news. When the ruling leaves the news cycle, and public consciousness in general, it’s a safe bet that most of the “defiant” mayors will quietly change policy to comply.

        The bigger concern is more about councils trying to wiggle around the ruling. For example, one trick they might try is holding prayers “before” council meetings… before the official meeting agenda starts… so the prayers aren’t actually part of the meeting itself. (It won’t work; I haven’t examined it in detail, but from my cursory reading the ruling as given would still apply “outside” of the official meeting agenda.) Or they might institute a practice of having citizens give “inspiring words” at the start of a meeting, then just magically happen to always (or almost always) call in citizens who are priests and who want to use give their inspiring words in the form of a prayer. (This one’s trickier to call.)

        Another concern is that some councils will now put a determined effort into finding *other* ways to promote Christianity. They will feel under pressure to establish their religion in some way *quickly*, in the hopes that by the time it gets noticed it will be one of those things that’s “been around for a while and nobody complained”. Watch out for new logos or mottos, “official” declarations (like declaring the Bible the “official book of the city/region/whatever”, or even just ceremonial “recognition of the contribution of Christianity to the culture”), programs that fund, support, or aid in the propagation of religion, and other such crap.

        Ironically, this ruling means we’re going to have be even more vigilant, and that we’re probably going to be the butt of more hate than usual, for a while at least.

        1. billybob

          Yes most will comply after whining about how unfair
          neutrality is, some will fight on if they think they can score political points with the voters.

          The religious do not seem to understand
          some of the fundamental concepts of rights and freedoms. They will continue to try sneak religion in, we will have to stand on guard!


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