Library of Parliament Analysis of Freedom of Religion and the State’s Duty of Neutrality
The Court ruled unanimously that the City of Saguenay, Quebec cannot open its council meetings with a prayer:
"The Court held in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) that the recitation of prayers before council interfered with an atheist appellant’s freedom of conscience and religion and failed to respect the state’s duty of neutrality on religious matters. This duty requires that the state abstain from favouring one religious belief over others (...)"
"Writing on behalf of the Court, Justice Clément Gascon stressed that the decision should not be viewed as 'taking a stand in favour of atheism or agnosticism' over religion. Rather, he wrote that in preserving 'a neutral public space that is free of discrimination and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally,' the state helps preserve every person’s 'freedom and dignity' (...)"
"Justice Gascon discussed the Supreme Court’s 'evolving' understanding of the freedom of religion and conscience. He added that it must be interpreted in light of section 27 of the Canadian Charter, which recognizes the multicultural nature of Canada. He recognized that there are many traditional practices in Canada’s heritage that are religious in nature."
"A reference to a religious faith by the state is not on its own determinative. Rather, it is the purpose and effect of the reference that may be discriminatory. The traditional element of such practices, however, cannot be used to justify promoting the participation of certain believers to the detriment of others."