OTTAWA, April 15 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously on Wednesday that elected officials do not have the right to pray at city council meetings.
The case dates back to 2007 when Alain Simoneau, a resident of the city of Saguenay, Quebec, complained about city councilors praying in public at city hall before meetings. Mayor of Saguenay Jean Tremblay was ordered to stop reciting prayers.
Simoneau argued that Tremblay violated his freedom of conscience by conducting prayers.
"The recitation of the prayer at the council's meetings was above all else a use by the council of public powers to manifest and profess one religion to the exclusion of all others," the Supreme Court ruling reads. "A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person's freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society."
Dozens of towns and cities across Canada recite prayers before the start of council meetings.
Simoneau was awarded about $24,000 in damages. Tremblay, a religiously devout leader, argued that Roman Catholicism was part of Quebec's heritage and should be protected.
"When [U.S. President Barack] Obama was sworn in, there was a prayer that lasted almost 15 minutes," Tremblay said. "No one commented. We recite a 20-second prayer and everyone starts crying." The presence of religious symbols was not ruled on because the Supreme Court limited its scope to only investigating prayer.