While The Terrace Standard applauds the City of Terrace for eliminating the Christian prayer that used to precede inaugural meetings of new city councils, the same cannot be said of its handling of the recent nativity scene decision.
The prayer decision was justified in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in the Mouvement laïque québécois v Saguenay (City) case.
But then city staff cited that judgment when it decided not to allow the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternity, to put up its traditional nativity display at city hall this year.
That was both controversial and unjustified by the reason stated. The Supreme Court’s decision and the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal’s decision that preceded it did not deal with religious or cultural symbols, only prayer.
What is really troublesome here, though, is mayor and council abdicating any accountability to the citizens of Terrace.
“As stated this decision was an operations decision made by staff,” said Mayor Sean Bujtas in response to queries by The Standard. “Staff make many operational decisions every day to keep our community running. I appreciate you reaching out again on this issue, but as indicated by city staff, we believe we have exhausted this issue.”
But the issue is not exhausted. When the decision was met with backlash from the Knights and the public, the city sought a legal opinion. Presumably, spending taxpayer’s money to obtain a legal opinion was intended to either justify staff’s decision or open the door to revisit the decision.
Now, they are refusing to release the legal opinion.
Separation of church and state is a very important principle, but, as the Supreme Court ruled, “state neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief … including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever.”
The nativity display is a cultural expression and does not exclude the possibility of other cultural displays such as Hindu Diwali or Humanist “Good without God” displays. Perhaps that is what staff is worried about.
In any event, it is time for mayor and council to live up to the responsibility they were elected for, release the legal opinion and either reverse the nativity decision or come up with a better reason to justify it.
— The Terrace Standard
READ MORE: City hall nativity scene debate not over yet