SAGUENAY, QUEBEC — The mayor of Saguenay is appealing for donations to help him fight a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal (QHRT) ruling that ordered him to stop Christian prayer in the council chambers.
In the meantime, Jean Tremblay remains defiant and plans to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if he has to.
“We make a prayer, all the council, since the beginning of the city 150 years ago,” Tremblay said in an interview from Saguenay. The 20-second prayer is said before the opening of council meetings.
Tremblay not only refuses to stop the brief Christian prayer before council meetings, but also refuses to remove a crucifix and a small statue of the Sacred Heart as the QRHT ordered.
“They want us to take off all the religious objects from the wall,” he said. “We don’t agree with that because those objects for some people that means our faith, for some others our culture, for some others our tradition.”
The QHRT also ordered him to pay $30,000 in moral and punitive damages to atheist Alain Simoneau, a resident of the city’s Chicoutimi borough, who had complained the prayers violated his freedom of conscience.
“If you are an atheist, you can be an atheist, but you cannot force the other people to think like you,” Tremblay said. “I am Catholic, not everyone has to be Catholic.”
“Let me have my faith and I will let you have yours and it is possible for everyone to live together,” he said.
Tremblay claims he is the first mayor in the history of the world who has been forced to pay because he prays.
“In Quebec we don’t respect Catholic people,” he said. All other religions seem to be respected except the Catholic faith.
To avoid having taxpayers foot the legal bills, which have already exceeded $57,000, the mayor has posted a special link on the city’s website (www.ville.saguenay.qc.ca) showing the statue of Jesus with a title in French that translates: “Donations. Prayer on trial.”
Those who telephone the city have an automated voice directing them to dial 1010 if they wish to help. The city had raised more than $50,000 by Feb. 21, since first making the appeal Feb. 16.
Tremblay said any money left over from the legal costs will be directed to the food banks helping the poor in his city.
Tremblay says money and support is pouring in from across Quebec and the rest of Canada. He is even receiving support from the United States and Europe.
While Catholics and other Christians may support the mayor, religious freedom expert and constitutional lawyer Iain Benson, who is also Catholic, said it would be better if the mayor and his council members devoted a moment of silence, so “the transcendent is given general recognition.”
Tremblay said the prayer is not a Catholic prayer, but one asking “God to help us in our decisions.” The prayer would be good for Muslims and Jews, too, he added.
Though Saguenay has been ordered to remove its crucifix, the Quebec National Assembly has no plans to get rid of the one hanging over the speaker’s chair, an aide to Provincial Minister Kathleen Weil told the Montreal Gazette. The aide said the crucifix is part of Quebec’s “historic heritage.”