Quebec Ponders Banning Public Employees From Wearing Overt Religious Symbols
Religion & Liberty Online

Quebec Ponders Banning Public Employees From Wearing Overt Religious Symbols

Parti Québécois and Bernard Drainville, minister of the newly proposed charter, announced yesterday that a new plan would ban overt religious symbols to be worn by “judges, police, prosecutors, public daycare workers, teachers, school employees, hospital workers and municipal personnel.” These symbols would include large crosses or crucifixes, turbans, hijab, and kippas. Smaller jewelry (such as Star of David earrings) would be allowed.

This proposal has caused uproar, both in the Quebec government and in the public. Here are a few reactions:

As a Canadian-Muslim woman, I proudly wear my hijab, a choice that is completely my own and not influenced by others. Wearing my hijab does not cause any physical or psychological harm to anyone so than why should I be forced to remove it, if I want a good job working in Quebec? Have we really become so intolerant and insecure of ourselves that even the sight of a religious symbol has become unbearable and strikes fear in our society? The proposed charter is an infringement on my basic rights as a human. What I choose to wear is my personal choice; a freedom I thought I had as a Canadian citizen by birth.

I think the proposed charter is excellent. I’m a high-school teacher and I find it very insulting to see a teacher that teaches science or ethics (the French course teaches common values and is an introduction to different religions in the world) wearing a hijab, for example. A teacher has to be neutral in front of their students, has to be equal with his or her co-workers, and more specifically has to respect the dress code of the institution he or she works for. If somebody believes in God, great, but they don’t have to show it, especially when in a position of authority.

I am Buddhist and wear Mala beads during specific days of the year. It is important for me to feel free to present myself freely in the workplace, and my religious faith is a big part of whom I am. I find that it is important that my workplace reflects the multiculturalism of the society that we live in. It also helps to create a discussion in which we are able to get rid of prejudice and ignorance toward people and their faith. Most of the hatred in the world is based on ignorance of the other person we are in conflict with, we need to understand each other if we are to live in a truly free society. The proposed charter is one of exclusion that will make certain people feel attacked. I also think that it is a diversion tactic to make people forget about the current government’s poor record with jobs, education and other important infrastructures.

Christian Lépine, the Catholic archbishop of Montreal, says the charter is “excessive”, adding that it attempts to control people’s freedom of expression.

When you want to contain the visibility of faith, you are saying to people: ‘You cannot be all you are,” he said in an interview with Global News.

Lépine said that the charter’s proposal for religious neutrality and secularism is simply another name for non-religious values that would be imposed by a few on everyone. Such a move would not be respectful nor democratic, he said.

“Normally if you talk about a charter, it’s about a charter of rights that gives space to different belief systems, so in that sense I don’t see this as a charter, it’s more of a credo,” he said to CBC News.

Drainville defended the proposed charter, saying that if the state is neutral in its stance to religion, those working for the state must also be neutral. There are those who claim the charter will prove unconstitutional:

Jason Kenney, a federal government minister, said he was “very concerned” by the proposed legislation and said the federal government will challenge any law in courts if they deem it unconstitutional. Lawyers say the law may infringe constitutional rights on freedom of religion and expression.

The charter claims to promote peace and social harmony, while still recognizing Quebec’s “rich historic heritage.”  A vote is expected on the charter this fall.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.