In Canada, a country whose constitution recognizes God’s existence and even his permissiveness, the federal government can act against the decisions of its Supreme Court in complete legality. This has just been made clear again by the unfortunate vote to continue praying in the House of Commons.
If we were to believe Justin Trudeau and many other MPs, both liberal and conservative, the Quebec bloc’s proposal to replace prayer with a moment of reflection was not a real problem. However, the obligation imposed on the Speaker of the House of Commons to recite the prayer, an obligation enshrined in the House’s Rules of Procedure, is a clear denial of the religious neutrality of the state to which the Government of Canada claims to be a party. Herein lies the issue.
If secularism is not a problem, why do all federal parties, with the exception of the Quebec bloc, constantly attack the Quebec law on state secularism? Why did Jean Charest and Pierre Boiliver make the topic up for debate in their race for leadership? Why would Justin Trudeau and Jean Charest want the federal government to fight this law in the Supreme Court?
By fighting Bill 21 and voting to maintain prayer, the message is clear: Canada is not a secular country and its representatives do not intend to respect the principle of separation of state and religion.
According to another argument invoked to preserve prayer, the text does not refer to any religious denomination and therefore can be suitable for everyone. To hear them, this prayer would not really be a prayer. This was defended by Minister Stephen Gilbolt and constitutional expert Benoit Pelletier and others. The latter’s position was surprising insofar as he defended Bill 21 as an expert before the Supreme Court. He does not seem to understand that secularism is primarily about the rules of action of the state and its representatives.
What does the Supreme Court say?
Prayers like this would violate the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada Quebec’s secular movement against Saguené. Because the Commons prayer is of the same kind. Even if any explicit reference to Christianity or any other religion is omitted, “it does not alter the nature or substance of prayer, declares the Court. […] Praying to God, attributing the benefits granted to the city and its citizens, and influencing the council’s deliberations.
This is exactly the case with the Commons Prayer, which calls on God to give the elect “wisdom, knowledge, and understanding” that will enable them to “make wise decisions.”
The court adds that such a protest, which gives preference to a deity’s vision of life, undermines the freedom of conscience of citizens and the religious neutrality of the state, which is a “democratic duty.”
Indeed, the country’s highest court has declared that “actual religious neutrality” is incompatible with “good neutrality.” This last concept of neutrality is what is called “open secularism” and is a contradiction in the term itself.
A little consistency!
The judgment of the Supreme Court cannot be applied exclusively to the Saguenay case. If this city should be neutral, it is because the state should be. The entire argument developed by the Supreme Court is based on this. The principles and logic of this decision should therefore apply not only to all municipalities in Canada, but also to provincial and federal governments.
Even if the ruling does not obligate the government to submit to it, there is nothing to prevent it from acting consistently. What an extraordinary contradiction presented to us by elected federal representatives! Municipalities must stop reciting prayers in the name of religious neutrality of the state, while the Canadian state, represented primarily by the Government of Canada, rejects this same neutrality!
It is hard to understand why the Quebecwa bloc did not base its motion on this Supreme Court ruling. If the bloc had brought this decision to the fore, it would have been more embarrassing for members of the Liberal and Conservative Party to vote against it and thus put themselves at odds with the Supreme Court. At the very least, it was possible to expose their inconsistency and empty their arguments of their substance.
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