16 April 2015

CCLA at Supreme Court on City of Saguenay Freedom of Religion Case

CCLA at Supreme Court on Important Freedom of Religion Case « Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as an intervener in the case of Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al. The
appeal heard by the Court on October 14, 2014, centres on whether the
recital of a prayer at the beginning of public city council meetings
violates provisions of the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms and, in particular, whether rights to equality and freedom of religion, are unjustifiably infringed.
Mr. Simoneau, a non-religious citizen of the respondent
City of Saguenay attended the meetings of the municipal council. A
municipal by-law allowed council members to stand and say a prayer at
the start of council proceedings if they wished. Mr. Simoneau and the
Mouvement laïque québécois filed an application against the City and its
mayor with the province’s human rights tribunal alleging that they had
violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion and his right
to respect for his dignity (ss. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 15 of the Charter).
They asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that religious
symbols be removed from the proceedings rooms. The tribunal allowed Mr.
Simoneau’s application in part, but the Court of Appeal set aside the
decision on the ground that the content of the prayer did not violate
the duty of neutrality imposed on the City, and that even if the
recitation of the prayer interfered with Mr. Simoneau’s moral values,
the interference was trivial or insubstantial in the circumstances.
The CCLA’s position in the case is that State-sponsored
religious coercion, in the form of the recital of a religious prayer at
public city council meetings, violates the right to equality and freedom
of religion and conscience, and that these violations cannot be
justified under the either the Quebec or Canadian Charters.  There can
be no justification for state compulsion in matters of belief, and the
context of the particular case pointed to the bylaw’s clearly religious
purpose and effect.

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