The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on April 15 that municipal council meetings in Saguenay, Que., cannot open with prayer. The unanimous decision was made because reciting a Catholic prayer infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.
Although the ruling was in regards to an eight-year long battle that began with atheist Alain Simoneau, who filed a complaint against the mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, other municipal councils throughout Canada, including in Ottawa and Dieppe, N.B., are taking the ruling seriously as it is implied that it applies nationwide.
While the ruling reads that reciting a prayer infringed on the right to religious freedom by “profess[ing] one religion to the exclusion of all others,” Mayor Tremblay has argued that reciting a prayer before a city council meeting is more a cultural homage to Quebec’s Catholic heritage than a religious action.
The Supreme Court ruling, according to some, doesn’t exclude all religious observance but means they must be without public display, so that a moment of silence, for example, may be permissible.
Many council meetings will have to be reconsidered now, because they began with a scheduled prayer – usually for those of a Christian faith. Council meetings can still begin with prayer, but the language used to schedule that into the opening proceedings of a meeting has to now be inclusive to any religion or those who aren’t religious.
Councils may start with something more generic like a moment of silence or personal reflection, which each individual can use – if they so choose – as an opportunity to indulge in their personal faith or lack thereof.
The fact remains that the municipal government is a public entity, meant to represent each and every citizen it governs.
As important as freedom of religion is, there is something to be said for freedom of no religion, as well. It should be just as important for people who don’t wish to participate in religious practices not to be subjected to them.
Also, Canada is an inclusive nation where the many cultures and religions of its citizens are a part of its culture as a whole and not simply something allowed. It’s fine for Saguenay to want to pay “homage” to its history, but that can’t come with the exclusion of everything else that has since been added to that culture.