Nativity scene removed from Montreal-area town hall

Christine Bouthillier, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET

MONTREAL - A posh Montreal suburb has decided to remove a nativity scene and menorah from town hall rather than acquiesce to demands from a Muslim group to erect Islamic religious symbols.

The decision by the Town of Mount Royal upsets a Christian resident who says the town is abandoning an established tradition under pressure from a tiny religious minority.

Town councillors of several different religions unanimously decided to remove the Christian and Jewish items.

They had been displayed in front of the municipal building for the past 15 years.

"We asked ourselves if we were willing to display (symbols of) the five major religions," said Mayor Philippe Roy.

"This is not the role of the city, which is a secular public institution."

The decision comes amid a larger debate about the place of religion in public institutions.

Quebec's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal of a ruling that barred councillors in Saguenay, Que., from praying before their meetings.

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay has been spearheading a legal, financial and public-relations crusade to support his right to lead the short prayer.

The battle has pitted Tremblay against the province's human rights tribunal as well as the Quebec Secular Movement.

Carla Mariano, a Christian resident of Mount Royal, tells QMI Agency that her town's decision to remove the manger is an affront to Canada's Judeo-Christian heritage.

"Why remove an old, established tradition?" she asked. "Does the council have the right to unilaterally remove it? Shouldn't it be up to citizens?"

Mariano points out that Canadian freedoms and democracy flow from Christian principles, but the mayor says it's a simple question of fairness.

About half of the town's citizens are Catholic while 12% are Jewish, another 7% are Greek Orthodox and 6% are Muslim.

"There are many communities in (Mount Royal)," Roy said. "If we want to represent the people, the question arises - why not other religious symbols?"

As a compromise, the town will maintain Christmas lights on a tree in front of town hall.

A synagogue and a church have agreed to place the nativity objects and menorah on their respective properties. Councillors have agreed to take part in religious ceremonies at both places of worship.


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