Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Mayor Says He's Surprised by Supreme Court's Prayer Ruling

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Mayor Says He's Surprised by Supreme Court's Prayer Ruling

Article excerpt

Quebec mayor surprised by SCOC's prayer ruling

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SAGUENAY, Que. - The Quebec mayor who would recite a prayer at the beginning of municipal council meetings expressed surprise Thursday at the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling that the practice must be stopped.

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay said he will comply with the judgment even though he doesn't agree with it.

"I respect the decision and we will stop the prayer, for sure, but I can't be in agreement with it after having fought for so long," he told a news conference.

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the reading of a Catholic prayer at council meetings infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

Canadian society has evolved and given rise to a ''concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs,'' the judgment said.

"The state must instead remain neutral in this regard."

The ruling ended an eight-year legal battle that pitted atheist Alain Simoneau and a secular-rights organization against Tremblay.

The mayor expressed surprise at the judgment, especially as the Quebec Court of Appeal had previously ruled unanimously in his favour.

"We thought the matter was over, considering the appeals court is the highest court in Quebec and especially as the Supreme Court only handles cases of national interest," he said.

"And we thought that in our case, national interest was a bit exaggerated.

"We were shaken by the ruling. I'll tell you it was a real surprise. Unanimous. That was a surprise."

The Supreme Court did not rule on the legality of religious symbols -- and that prompted Tremblay to urge governments other than at the municipal level to get involved in defending the presence of such objects in city halls and legislatures.

He also made a passionate plea in favour of Quebec traditions.

"The regulation on the prayer, which was adopted before I became mayor, appealed to tradition, to our customs as Quebecers," Tremblay said. …

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