The City Council of Saguenay, Quebec has been ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada to cease opening its council meetings with the following prayer:
Almighty God, we thank You for the great blessings that You have given to Saguenay and its citizens, including freedom, opportunities for development and peace. Guide us in our deliberations as City Council members and help us to be aware of our duties and responsibilities. Grant us the wisdom, knowledge and understanding to allow us to preserve the benefits enjoyed by our city for all to enjoy and so that we may make wise decisions. Amen.
Saguenay’s population is 94% Christian according to the 2011 General Household Survey: only 6% claim no religious affiliation.
However, one atheist, Alain Simoneau, claimed that the opening prayer at the Saguenay City Council was offensive to him, and took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada. On April 15, 2015, the court obligingly held that Mr. Simoneau had suffered “isolation, exclusion and stigmatization” by Saguenay’s City Council conducting its brief introductory prayer. The court awarded him $30,000.00 for what was essentially his hurt feelings. One would think that the Supreme Court of Canada was another human rights tribunal with its enthusiasm for delving into such tender, sensitive matters as “hurt feelings”.
The court declared in its judgment:
sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions . . .
A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity and it helps to preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society.
Come again? Coercion, pressure, and judgment? How did they find all this buried in the recitation of the prayer? One has to be a Supreme Court Judge, one supposes, to be able to read such reckless and tragic implications in the recitation of a benign prayer.
Implications of the Court’s Decision
As soon as the decision was handed down, Some Canadian mayors announced they would no longer recite a prayer at the opening of council meetings. Some were the mayors of Ottawa, Windsor, Regina and Edmonton. In one fell swoop, God has been removed from the nation’s city councils.
Curiously, the prayer recited in the Saguenay City Council is the same prayer recited by the Speaker of the House of Commons before each Parliamentary sitting. Fortunately, the court may not be able to insert its sticky fingers into that particular pie, due to Parliamentary Privilege. The latter also applies to provincial legislatures, which apparently, are also uttering such unacceptable words before their legislative sessions commence.