Kelly McParland: Quebec judge strikes a blow against the scourge of secular fundamentalists
After three-year legal battle, court acquits Montrealer fined $144 over Catholic mass
When Paula Celani’s Catholic fellowship group held its annual fall gathering in 2009, employees at the municipal hall she had rented sensed something was amiss. “People celebrated a mass in the Entrepôt room, and there was a meal and religious songs in the Maison du Brasseur afterwards,” an employee wrote to her boss immediately afterwards. “Linda [a ballet instructor giving lessons in the same building] was even asked if she wanted to buy a rosary …. If I am not mistaken, it is prohibited to have activities related to worship in municipal buildings.”
On Wednesday, three years after Ms. Celani opened her mail to find a $144 ticket from the city, a Municipal Court judge ruled that her activities had not broken any laws. The judge dismissed a charge against Paula Celani, who has spent three years fighting a $144 fine for daring to hold a gathering of her Catholic fellowship group in the municipal hall. Some eagle-eyed public servant noticed the group and fired off a missive, ratting them out.
“People celebrated a mass in the Entrepôt room, and there was a meal and religious songs in the Maison du Brasseur afterwards,” the employee wrote to her boss immediately afterwards. “Linda [a ballet instructor giving lessons in the same building] was even asked if she wanted to buy a rosary …. If I am not mistaken, it is prohibited to have activities related to worship in municipal buildings.” .
Holy Spanish Inquisition, Batman, someone actually offered to peddle a rosary. Prepare the waterboarding chamber, we have to get to the bottom of this.
Soon after, Ms. Celani got a citation in the mail, notifying her that she and her fellow worshippers, who call themselves the the En Route Foundation (en route the heaven, maybe?), had offended local restrictions against displays of religious faith on public property. Quebec has become obsessively censorious in this regard: the Parti Quebecois has proposed a Charter of Secularism that would forbid government employees from wearing overt religious symbols — except for crucifixes, which the PQ likes. Despite some obvious holes in the plan — such as the fact that crucifixes get special treatment — pollsters find only about 26% of Quebecers are opposed.
Maybe that’s why the Montreal stool pigeon felt justified in complaining about Ms. Celani. What in the hell is happening to Canadian society when someone can just walk up and offer to sell you a rosary, like it’s a perfectly normal request? How are we supposed to protect our children when such temptations can be offered up in public, in the clear light of day?
Judge Mandeville, fortunately, wasn’t buying such silliness.
Judge Bernard Mandeville acquitted Ms. Celani, ruling that officials with the Montreal borough of Lachine misinterpreted zoning rules when they accused her of conducting religious worship in an area designated for other uses.
Taken to the extreme, the judge reasoned, the authorities’ strict interpretation would prevent the saying of grace before a meal in the building, a popular site for receptions. What the bylaw was intended to regulate were buildings that have a principal purpose of religious worship, he said, not “occasional, short-lived” use such as Ms. Celani’s. Oddly enough, there’s another case in Canada involving the blatant saying of grace in public. Ashu Solo of Saskatoon was appalled when he attended an appreciation banquet for municipal volunteers, and a local councillor, on the mayor’s request, led the audience in saying grace before they got down to eating. Mr. Solo went straight to the human rights commission and lodged a complaint against such a blatant display of non-secularism.
Back in the Stone Age, when Hare Krishna devotees used to wander freely around the streets of the city , people thought they were a bit odd, but no one figured they were contagious.
Now, all of a sudden, it’s a violation of personal space and individual freedom to be reminded, even inadvertently, that some people still have religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no shortage of Mr. Solos in Canada at the moment, who view religion as a contagion, like typhus or cholera, that can infect unsuspecting victims unfortunate enough to come into contact with it. In Solo’s case it was hearing the words “Jesus Christ” and “amen” in close proximity to one another. In the Montreal instance, it had to do with the alarming appearance of a rosary, and the singing of religious songs. I remember, way back in the Stone Age, when Hare Krishna devotees used to wander freely around the streets of the city, chanting their chants and handing out little pamphlets. People thought they were a bit odd, but no one figured they were contagious. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a violation of personal space and individual freedom to be reminded, even inadvertently, that some people still have religious beliefs.
Thank heaven there are still a few folks like Judge Mandeville and Robert Reynolds, Ms. Celani’s lawyer, who noted: “We’re in a society now where secularism is the new religion, so whenever something like this comes up, people become suspicious … But it might be wise to relax a bit and remember that religious people still have rights.”
Rights? For religion?
The devil you say.