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OpEd: Quebec lacks faith in real secularism

By practicing selective secularism, the Parti Quebecois is doing more damage to Quebec's growing reputation for religious intolerance.
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Rita Silvan, August 21, 2013 9:02:03 AM

There’s a lot of noise about “freedom of religion”. But, for a change, let’s hear it for “freedom from religion”.

Though it will be mighty unpopular, in the fall, the Parti Quebecois proposes to modify their Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to what it calls “Quebec Values“. The wearing by public employees of all “ostentatious” religious symbols like the yarmulke, kirpan, burqua, hijab, turban and crosses will be banned. (Presumably working at a post office in Montreal while wearing a gold pendant that spells “ATHEIST” would be frowned upon but would not be banned outright under the Charter.)

Unlike some other countries, Canada’s Charter does not separate church and state. Instead, it encourages multiculturalism and accommodation. France, on the other hand, has a very strict interpretation of secularism: all religious symbols are forbidden in public life. Quebec’s approach hews more closely to France’s policies but with a difference—hypocrisy.

Quebec is selectively secular. How else can you explain the giant crucifix hanging in the Quebec National Assembly. Come fall, the yarmulkes and kirpans may be flying across La Belle Province but that cross is staying put. It’s big enough to choke an ox. If that’s not ostentatious, then what is?

According to the PQ, the crucifix was a gift in 1936 from premier Maurice Duplessis as a symbol of the alliance between the Catholic Church and the Quebec government. Thus, according to the PQ, it’s a part of Quebec’s heritage. Dude, it’s a crucifix.

So there appears to be a “heritage” loophole. What about a fashion loophole too? Some people wear religious symbols, likes crosses, solely as a fashion statement. How will the government know whether a displayed religious symbol is intended as a statement of heritage, religious affiliation or style?

By selecting which religious symbols are exempt from the ban, the PQ only reinforces its reputation for intolerance. There is only one fair thing to do: strip them all out or keep them all in. No cherry picking allowed.

France has taken a hard line and, while it may be unpopular with some religious groups, it is fair across-the-board. You don’t need to be a history buff to know that religion is divisive. There’s almost no more efficient way of separating groups into US vs THEM. In an ideal world, everyone would be free to express their spiritual/religious notions in public life and it would all be good. But in the real world, it’s not all good. When it comes to civic life, it may be better not to stir the beast by broadcasting one’s religious beliefs.They are sure to clash with someone else’s beliefs, or lack thereof. And that’s when troubles start and no one gets to be right.

If the PQ are really serious about separating church and state, then they need to back it up by removing ALL religious symbols from the public sphere, including that crucifix. Saying “no” to kirpans but “yes” to crosses because of some “heritage” loophole weakens their entire position on secularism and proves that faith, not freedom is still at the heart of Quebec’s Values.

Image credits: Anuraj Singh, T a k/Flickr.com


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Rita Silvan

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