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Canadian Supreme Court rules against prayer at city council meetings

The Supreme Court of Canada building.
The Supreme Court of Canada building.

Photo courtesy of Peregrine981 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court of Canada building.

TORONTO (RNS) Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.

In a unanimous ruling Wednesday (April 15), Canada’s highest court ruled that the town of Saguenay can no longer publicly recite a Catholic prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

The case dates back to 2007, when a resident of Saguenay complained about public prayer at City Hall.

Just last year, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that legislative bodies such as city councils could begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion.

But the Canadian high court ruled that the country’s social mores have “given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.”

The court said a nondenominational prayer is still religious in nature and would exclude nonbelievers.

In 2011, a human rights tribunal in Quebec ordered an end to the prayers and awarded $30,000 in damages to the complainant.

Quebec’s Court of Appeals overturned that decision two years later, saying the town imposed no religious views on its citizens.

But the high court ruled that it is the state’s “duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion.” That means it “may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others.”

The court awarded the complainant $33,500 in damages.

Only hours after the ruling was made public, the city of Ottawa suspended its practice of beginning council meetings with a prayer, saying it needs to review the decision. Other municipalities have also halted the practice, pending a review.


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Ron Csillag


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  • Canada is almost as stupid as America. Someone was given $35,000.00 for hearing a Catholic prayer recited publicly? The world is losing its mind. Just give the whiner a pair of earmuffs.

  • I think it’s a clear line in the sand, James: all atheists in the USA should move to Canada, and all their people of Faith, can move down here, as we have the “free exercise” clause in our Constitution. That would be a pretty good compromise.

  • My idea is to encourage gays and atheists to emigrate to Obama’s new Cuba. Since religion has been forbidden for 50 some years, the atheists can draw up a new constitution and the gays can redecorate it.
    Advertise it as “The End of the Rainbow in the Caribbean”.

  • So by “the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs” the Supreme Court basically says “you must abide by our idea of religion and beliefs which is there may not be any”.

    And they say that is neutral!!!

  • Good point! In fact it is interesting how in this country the gay lobby will repeatedly lob flaming fireballs at the Christian Churches, howling “bigotry,” but actually, the atheistic communist countries were, and are, more anti-homosexual than any Christian ever was.

  • “Canada is almost as stupid as America.”

    Right, America is much stupider. Especially with the City of Troy NY ruling which opened the door to religious nutcases to hijack local government to show their appreciation of their sectarianism.

    What is really funny is how nasty the reactions are when the prayer is done by someone besides a conservative Christian. You can tell that crowd really doesn’t understand or just plain hates religious freedom or free exercise of religion.

  • Even funnier is how you Christian bigots attack people of other religions who dare to make invocations at such government events. Evidently their sole notion of free exercise of religion only includes Christians. Such hypocrites.

    Christians like yourself are just compulsive haters.

  • Do you atheists carry money with “In God We Trust”? Kinda hypocritical advertising for us.

  • True, it is hypocritical for government to be putting such a slogan on its cash.

    But who carries cash anymore?

  • Too late, the Tennessee legislature just passed a law stating that IGWT must be listed on all apps and credit cards…

  • Dealing drugs?
    Tax evasion?
    People who are too stupid with their money to qualify for credit cards?
    People who don’t know how banks work?
    People who are afraid of online shopping?
    People who enjoy paying extra fees to buy money orders to pay utility bills?

    I would say cavemen, but nowadays living in a cave means a lot of online purchasing.

  • They are still recovering from their period of atheistic communism. Christianity there had been suppressed for several generations. But … it’s funny you bring up Russia. In 1917 Mary appeared to three children in Fatima, and told them that Russia, “will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated” (Fatima message 13-VII-1917). Not only did that Marian prophecy come true almost two decades later, but she also said, ” if my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace;” Thus we see Christianity coming back to life there. So Our Lord is at work in Russia. But as to your suggestion, Nah, too cold there. And I trust the people in this country will wake up soon, before going too much further down the tubes.

  • He was awarded the money but it is a small amount to compensate for the abuse and discrimination he suffered. He was driven out of the community by the so-called “love thy neighbor” Christians. I know what it’s like since the same happened to me. It cost me my employment, home, social supports, community, social standing, friendships, and lots of money.

  • I have a couple of US dollars from before that was added. It is very ignorant to include the word “we” since millions of people in the US disagree.

  • The award is to partly compensate court costs. Imagine the fuss if a Muslim mayor had made everyone recite a prayer in Arabic. It would be considered unbelievably high handed and arrogant. It is equally so when Catholics do it.

  • The law treats both religions and atheism equally. What would be more neutral? Everybody’s rights are respected. Nobody can force others to perform ceremonies of their religion. You think there should be some exception, e.g. readings from Dawkins, Hindu prayers?

  • James..would these be the same prayers that the children heard at the Canadian residential schools from the nuns and priests, or while “witches” burned at the stake, or the heretics heard as they were put to death? Religion, these death cults offer nothing to humanity..The self importance of religion has finally been challenged..good thing to.

  • James.. is the same god who prevents you from claiming from your insurance company as they like hide behind the “act of god” thingy. If you trust god maybe you can sue him/her for damages

  • Richard, I am a Witch/Pagan. I try very hard to respect everyone’s choice to practice any religion of their choosing or not. But I find that that the Least excepting and the Least resoecting and most demanding religion is Christianity. Friends of mine who are Hindu or Buddhist, Sikhism and especially Muslim are so much more excepting and respectful of my Practice. Whereas Christians are the least likely to be accepting. I am not lumping all Christians in the disrespectful category and I have Sweet Darling Loving friends who are Christians.. Funny they will come to me for help when they are having problems for spells to change the situation. I don’t do revenge spells except once for my friend who’s daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend and have found people who have gone missing, generally of their own free will… But then they will try and “Convert” me.. Lol!

  • Fortunately, Greg, the non-religious people in our country are the ones preventing it from going down the tubes of superstition that your religion and its backward nonthink represents.

  • You must have made up the number 35000. That isn’t in the article.
    Ritual abuse is the imposition of a ritual on an unwilling participant.
    Government has a duty to be religiously neutral, not to favor a particular religion, religion in general, or atheism.

  • The Supreme Court did not go far enough by not making it clear there should be no prayer in any government chambers across Canada; in provincial and Federal councils and public talks.
    The very good aspect of this decision is that the courts have begun (finally) to recognize the prime function of (all levels) of government is coersion and this must not be applied in any manner against citizens. We have a ways to go before laws in Canada are objective. I applaud this beginning.
    My respect goes out, unlike current politicians, to the supreme court judges for relying on the reason of the reason of the great legal minds of the past.

  • Don’t forget to consider the complainants legal fees, and time spent in court instead of work, etc. 30 g’s is not really all that much for a settlement that goes all the way to the supreme court.

  • I guess the test of this would be – would you be comfortable with a rotating series of chants and invocations being made before public sessions from various groups. Let’s start with the following agenda – rotated at each session.
    hindu; zoroastrians; muslim; christian; humanist; fsm; jainism, judaism, shinto, sikhism, taoism.
    We can add further as required.

  • No, you are misrepresenting the court ruling. It is simply saying that you can practice your religion but not during official government sessions – that’a a time to work and perform your secular duties.

    Matthew 6:5-6
    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

  • Oh Val,
    That is so scary. God is probably revolted anyway, by you handling something with HIS name on it. Thanks for the threat…….Go ATHEISM. !!

  • No, we don’t. Our currency features non-religous and universal images, like hockey and the canadarm. Our government does a pretty good job of remaining secular, despite all the rest of their failings. Your government could learn a thing or two. x