Religion and City Council
The article “Lakritz: Keep Religion out of City Council Meetings” published by The Calgary Herald, is an editorial writing by Naomi Lakritz. Lakritz comments on the Supreme Court of Canada’s case against the use of Catholic prayer rituals during city council meetings in the city of Saguenay, Quebec. The mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, is a devout Catholic who holds his faith very near to him. During city council meetings, Tremblay would hold opening prayers every meeting and he had a crucifix on display in the council’s chambers.
This conflict began approximately eight years ago, when a Saguenay resident, Alan Simoneau, brought a complaint to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal against Tremblay. Simoneau complained that Canadian citizens have the right to engage with elected civic officials without being haunted by the spectre of anyone’s religious affiliation. The Tribunal sided with Simoneau in the matter. However, Tremblay refused to comply with the Tribunal’s orders and the issue was brought to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The issue of religion in the workplace, especially in the public sector, is a touchy matter. It is in my opinion that Tremblay isn’t entirely in the wrong for displaying religious symbols and practicing his faith during his tenure as Mayor of Saguenay. I don’t believe displaying a crucifix in the council’s chambers or any other religious symbol is offensive or uncomfortable to others. Religious symbols are every, it’s almost impossible to travel anywhere without crossing paths with some form of religious symbolism or art. Even though Canada has no official religion, despite the fact that Catholicism is the majority religion in Canada, it is not illegal or uncommon to display religious symbols in public.
In my opinion, if Tremblay is unable to display a crucifix in council chambers, he also shouldn’t be allowed to wear a cross or have a rosary on his person, during his tenure as Mayor. Hypothetically if Tremblay were Muslim, would Simoneau be uncomfortable with Tremblay wearing a turban or fasting during Ramadan while hosting council meetings? This issue extends to many different traditions of many different religions. I don’t believe that displaying religious symbols or passively practicing your faith such as the aforementioned Islamic examples, is forcing religion onto anyone.
Where I do side with Simoneau’s complaint, is on Tremblay’s ritual of opening every meeting with a prayer. Being a Catholic myself, I don’t see any harm in a short opening prayer, but I will admit it is somewhat unnecessary of Tremblay and it certainly does subject members of that councils meeting to Catholicism. On this merit, this particular part of Simoneau’s complaint has significant weight. Public city council meetings are not the time for prayer without every members consent beforehand.
The outcome of this issue has yet to be decided. Currently the Supreme Court of Canada is still deliberating on the matter.