This is the second of three blogs by three different authors but with a common theme: the April 15th 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The other two are Blog 54 by David Rand and Blog 56 by Jacques Savard.
The recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of the secularism has given us much more food for thought than it seemed at first glance. After a saga lasting almost nine years, the city of Saguenay lost its fight against the Mouvement Laïque Québécois (MLQ, Quebec Secular Movement). The Court finally ruled against the recitation of prayer for the simple reason that such a practice undermines the principle of state neutrality. Prayer in a public institution such as council meeting room violates freedom of religion and freedom of conscience whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever.
What is a Prayer?
A prayer is, by definition, a message sent by a person and destined for an immaterial, imaginary being. This message may be a group effort, or it may be internal. The believer emits sounds or attempts to reach his object of devotion by telepathy. We know that sounds cannot travel over long distances and that telepathy is impossible because brain waves are too weak to reach beyond the cranial cavity. How then can believers hope to establsh communication with their preferred divinity? In fact, believers are immersed in a mental hallucination and thus find themselves dealing with a totally irrational conviction. But the science here is clear: transmission of messages remotely, without the assistance of technical support, is impossible. The incommunicability of prayer is thus scientifically proven. Yet some believers insist on praying still. For example, members of the town council of Saint-Stanislas in the Mauricie region of Quebec as well as the legislative assembly of New Brunswick have indicated their desire to continue this tradition as long as they can.
It does not take a great deal of insight to recognize that “God” is unattainable. Consider the 48,000 parents who ask in vain that their child not die of starvation today… The number of unanswered requests received each day by that ghostly being is simply enormous. Why does “God” remain insensitive to the countless complaints addressed to “him”? There are three possible explanations: (1) he is unable to act, in which case prayer is useless; or (2) he just does not care, in which case he is to be hated; or (3) he does not exist, thus making prayer useless. The last of these explanations is the most reasonable and necessarily the most logical.
However, there is nothing noble about prayer. In fact, it is the most presumptuous and arrogant of actions. Indeed, thinking that one can establish a privileged communication with the divinity in the hope that that being will respond to one’s personal entreaties, when one knows very well that it fails to answer such requests from millions of other people, represents an act which is both egotistical and disgraceful.
The Legal Scope of the Charter
The Supreme Court judgement opens our eyes to the unseemliness of prayer but it nevertheless reveals an inconsistency. One of the arguments put forward by the mayor of Saguenay was the notion of the supremacy of “God” which is found in the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Nevertheless, Canada’s highest court did not see fit to accept this argument. The Court thus affirms that the references to “God” in the legal documentation are not legally binding and thus have no legal value.
Here is the preamble to the Canadian Charter in its entirety, as well as paragraphs 1 and 2.
CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
Rights and freedoms in Canada
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association.
Source: CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982
Thus, according to the Court’s judgment, any reference to “God” in the text of the Canadian Charter will henceforth be without significance. Although we can be relieved and reassured to know that legally the decision of the court will set a precedent and that, from now on, no group can invoke “God” in its argumentation, we remain concerned and request the removal of this preamble from the Canadian Charter.
Just imagine the justification that this reference triggers in the minds of believers of all stripes when they read that a god, without specifying which one, is enthroned above the rights and freedoms of individuals. Maintaining such a preamble in this document, even if it is not legally recognized, may fuel interpretations and potential challenges. Consider, for example, the writings found in the Bible and the Qur’an, which have no scientific or legal value. Their historical value, if indeed they have any, is obscured by two elements: the multiplicity of authors over time and the difficulty of distinguishing real events from mythological ones. Nevertheless, various groups and individuals use such writings to justify their subversive, misogynist and homophobic programs. That is why maintaining the reference to “God” in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a threat to reason, secularism and social peace.