CBC REPORT: A Quebec municipality is making an almighty effort to get donations to fight a court ruling banning prayers at city council.
An illustration of Jesus Christ himself sits on the city's Internet page, his eyes questioning and palm open, above a French-language logo that translates as "Donations, prayer on trial."
Click on the Messiah and another page opens up, where several handy payment options are offered including cheques delivered in person and donations by phone and Internet.
Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay says the very future of Quebec's francophone culture and Roman Catholic heritage are at stake.
In a verdict rendered last week, Quebec's human-rights tribunal ordered the crucifix removed from Saguenay's assembly room, demanded an end to prayers at council meetings, and asked the city to pay $30,000 in penalties. It ordered that the sum be paid to the citizen who complained about the prayers.
But Saguenay city hall is fighting back.
"Where are we French-Canadians going with our values?" Tremblay asked during a fiery statement to reporters announcing the appeal bid Wednesday.
"Where will we French-Canadians be in 50 years?"
Although the request for appeal hasn't been filed yet, Tremblay says the city's lawyers believe it stands a good chance.
It's the latest salvo is the bubbling debate over identity in Quebec, which has seen one controversy after another about how much tolerance should be shown for other people's religious views.
Occasionally the debate focuses, as it has in Saguenay, on the habits of the traditional francophone Roman Catholic majority. More often, though, it has been about Muslim women's veils and Sikhs' ceremonial daggers.
Last week, members of the provincial legislature unanimously banned the Sikh kirpan from the premises.
The move came after a group of Sikhs scheduled to attend hearings on the wearing of religious headgear were stopped by security guards when the ceremonial daggers tripped metal detectors.
Some legislators said the move was based on security concerns. Some said it was to preserve the national assembly's secular character.
The Parti Quebecois' critic for secularism, however, said Wednesday that she agrees with keeping the crucifix perched above the provincial legislative chamber because it reflects 400 years of history.
Saguenay's mayor was also keen to talk history Wednesday.
In his address to reporters, Tremblay confidently stated that in the entire history of the human race, there had never been a precedent for such persecution as that suffered by his administration.
"In the history of the world, and we verified this just for fun, this has never happened," Tremblay said.
"Not even in antiquity, not even in the Middle Ages — a mayor punished for saying a prayer!"
Tremblay bemoaned the hefty legal fees that an appeal could entail and said he would like to see them paid through donations rather than on the shoulders of taxpayers.
He stressed that he was not a religious "extremist," but merely wanted to fight back against what he perceived to be an imbalance in Quebec society.
He wondered why the majority, francophone Catholics, have to leave their faith at home when minorities seem to enjoy so many rights.
"Here, it seems that reasonable accommodation is good provided it is not for Catholics," he said, pointing out that 90 per cent of his fellow townsfolk are Catholics.