Taking on secularism

By 
  • February 23, 2011
In a subtle nod to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, some Quebeckers are calling the case of Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay the “Prayer Trial.”

In the Scopes case a small-town Tennessee high school teacher, John Scopes, faced charges of teaching evolution in a trial that pitted church against state and traditionalists against modernists. The trial sparked a local furor and national debate that made international headlines.

Tremblay’s case is unlikely to attain such notoriety but, from the perspective of church vs. state, the two cases do indeed bear some resemblance.

Saguenay’s mayor is waging a brash battle to retain the traditional right to begin city meetings with a simple prayer and to display a crucifix and statue of the Sacred Heart in the Saguenay council chamber. The mayor lost round one before a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal when the city was ordered to not only stop opening its meetings with prayer and to remove its religious symbols but, absurdly, to also pay compensation of $30,000 to the atheist who lodged the complaint.

To his credit, Tremblay has ignored the judgment and announced plans to appeal the decision to Quebec’s highest court in a campaign to preserve the centuries-old religious heritage of Saguenay and its overwhelmingly Catholic population.

“When Obama was sworn in, there was a prayer that lasted almost 15 minutes. No one commented,” Tremblay said. “We recite a 20-second prayer and everyone starts crying,”

On all counts, we commend Tremblay’s courage and conviction but also applaud a layman for daring to boldly go — challenging the province’s aggressive secularism — where few of Quebec’s Church leaders have dared to venture.

“Why is it us Christians who always have to bend?” he was quoted. “We’re ready to respect everyone, but we also want to be respected. It’s gone too far.”

Indeed it has. Tremblay’s case is just the latest example of secular Quebec trying to expunge its Catholic heritage. The movement began during the Quiet Revolution, became official policy over succeeding decades and was evident recently when Quebec outlawed prayer in its day cares (even those operated by religious orders) and in the province’s ongoing crusade to end faith-based religious instruction in schools.

To subsidize legal costs, Tremblay launched a toll-free phone line and, on the city web site, posted a petition for online donations. In the first week more than $50,000 was raised. It turns out that many Quebeckers still value their Catholic heritage and are eager to support  someone willing to champion their cause.

So they have opened their wallets for Saguenay’s devout Catholic mayor and,  to the prospect of a “Prayer Trial,” they declare: bring it on.

“We need to wake up and stand up for what we believe,” Tremblay said.

It’s about time in Quebec that someone did.

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