Today, readers are responding to Quebec tabling legislation that would ban people in positions of authority from wearing their religion. The list of positions includes judges, prosecutors, police officers, court security, jail guards and teachers – the one position where some Quebeckers are known to wear hijabs.
As an atheist I suppose that I should welcome this, but I don’t. I value religious freedom and am very cautious about governments telling me what I can and cannot do if inflicts no harm on others. I’ll continue to try to persuade people that all religion is superstitious nonsense, and even point out the awful things that religious adherents have done, and still do, in the name of their gods, but, neither individually nor collectively, do we have the right to force people to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihoods.
Being an atheist and convinced that humanity must evolve past the straitjacket of traditional religion, I’m kind of happy about any government policy that would help make that happen. But even if I wasn’t an atheist, it would be nearly impossible for me to agree with so many commentators equating the forthcoming policy to underwriting intolerance. I think this is misguided. On the contrary, the interdiction of religious symbols in the public sphere should insure that all are treated the same, no matter their private beliefs. The separation of church and state and the principle of state secularism are upheld. These should be considered favorable developments in any modern society.
While I am not religious at all this move is just political pandering to the right wing. If we truly value our “multiculturalism” the outward signs of religion should not be a problem. This is just silly when we have real problems to deal with.
What Quebec does as no real implication for the rest of Canada, however it has real implications for the federal government. The rest of Quebec will be expecting a strong statement from the feds against this move, and therein lies the dilemma for Trudeau. A strong statement may anger Quebeckers and seats in Quebec are vitally important to any chance of being returned to government. It seems that is an election year the Liberals just can’t catch a break.
I understand how there is a backlash against religious “symbols” especially face coverings, which many regard as dehumanizing and misogynistic despite being “voluntary.” But this legislation goes way too far in barring things that are actually religious requirements like a skullcap, or a turban, or things that are innocuous like a headscarf or a crucifix necklace, things that have been fine for many many years. Not to mention the hypocrisy of permitting a giant religious symbol in the legislature. This is an over-reaction. Throwing out the baby with the bath water. Come on, we are smarter and better than this.
Personally I don’t have a problem with the religious symbol ban for those working for the province. Legault has said this will also include the removal of the crucifix from the Legislature. While Mr. Trudeau may feel that Canada as a whole is a post-national state with no core identity, Quebecers certainly do not feel this way. In fact, they have a very strong core identity. That identity is at risk on many fronts, whether that be language, religion, or cultural influences encircling them. I think in order to understand where Quebecers are coming from, one needs to learn about the Quiet Revolution. Prior to that time, Quebec was basically a Catholic theocracy. Since throwing off their religious shackles in the late sixties, Quebec has probably become the most secular province in the country as indicated by very low marriage and religious participation rates. A perfect example of Newton’s third law at play. In that light, I can see Quebecers becoming increasingly nervous about any form of religious symbolism creeping into their daily lives. One is free to wear headgear out in public but if you are going to work for the secular state then it is a no go.
J. K. Galbraith in response:
John, it is not 1959 with francophone walking into Eaton’s and not being able to get service in French. The language and culture is strong and is not threatened by a small number of provincial employees wearing some type of religious symbol.
Canadians have in large part voluntarily omitted the use of religious symbols in our day to day lives. Most have even begun starting to refrain from referring to December 25th as Christmas, opting instead to refer to the day as part of “the holidays.” It is unfortunate that Quebec feels the need to make banning the use of religious symbols a law. It may be a foreshadow of things to come in the rest of the country, depending on the extent to which recent immigrants who hold more deeply held religious practices adopt our practices.
This is a difficult situation. All people are one. We need to respect our differences. How we respect our difference and affirm our unity as human being is the question. The Quebec government is moving towards removing outward signs while championing language differences. Other Canadians favour outward signs while wanting language uniformity.
Religious belief is personal and should be removed from Public/professional life in Canada. Let’s move on to a secular society to keep the peace among Canadian people of all stripes and colour. I agree with Quebec’s proposed law as long it addresses all religions.
I agree but I’m not a proponent of invoking the notwithstanding clause before any court challenges have even taken place.
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