The Québec Charter of Values and secular weakness

Yesterday, Terry Firma of Friendly Atheist wrote a post about making certain forms of religious expression illegal. He was speaking theoretically, of course, but for Canadians – especially Québécois – this is not theoretical.

On why censoring creationism is wrong, Terry Firma writes:

If your atheism is so weak that you’d criminalize Creationist bullcrap if you had the chance, yours is not a particularly robust world view.

Now, consider the Parti Québécois’s attempt to amend the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (fr. Charte des droits et libertés de la personne) with their divisive Charter of Québec Values (fr. Charte des valeurs québécoises). Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that the charter itself is a complete farce: while it purports to be about state secularism and targets religious minorities, it does nothing about the rampant Catholic symbolism and nomenclature in Québec and actually enshrines the giant crucifix in the Québec Assembly. Instead, let’s focus on the key divisive issue: the ban on the wearing of religious symbols by public employees (trigger warning: blatant islamophobia).

A poster published by the Parti Québécois showing the types of religious clothing that are considered permissible and impermissible under the Québec Charter of Values. The top row shows the permissible items - a standard Christian crucifix, an 'Islamic earring' (featuring a crescent and star), and a 'Jewish ring' (featuring the Star of David) - none of which actually exist but for the Christian crucifix. The bottom rows show the impermissible items. Four of the impermissible items - a Muslim hijab, a Muslim niqab, a Sikh dastar, and a Jewish kippah - are common, required religious accessories, while the fifth - an extremely large and ornate crucifix - is neither common nor required.

Nope. Not fascist at all!

In the name of so-called “secularism” – or rather, “laïcité” – the PQ intends to ban civil servants from any “ostentatious” displays of religious belief while on the job. (Note: not all forms of religious display – Catholic crucifixes are A-OK – and not for all civil servants – bus drivers and doctors won’t be able to wear turbans or hijabs, but politicians and high-ranking government officials will. Yes, yes, I’ve already said the charter is a farce.) The PQ put together the totally-not-fascist poster on the right to illustrate which are religious accoutrements are “permissible”, and which aren’t. (If you can’t read French, the top three are “permissible”: the crucifix, along with the ol’ Islamic earring and Jewish ring, which are totally a thing, right? The rest are not “permissible”.)

This will apply to all public servants in Québec (only, not really – only the ones who, ya know, aren’t actually in power, and don’t actually act as symbols for the state), which means that every nurse, teacher, and even bus driver will have to comply. Unsurprisingly, this has led to some angry reaction by religious people, who quite rightly point out that no sane person believes that when they see their bus driver wearing a kippah, that means there’s a Jewish influence on the government or that the government somehow favours Jewish people. Qualified and experienced doctors – which the province is already hungry for – are talking about packing up and leaving Québec for another province, because they can’t see how forcing them to take off their turbans on the job while allowing their colleagues to flaunt their crucifixes amounts to anything other than simple discrimination. Teachers are being threatened with losing their jobs unless they take their hijabs off, when no one can offer a rational explanation of how the cloth over their hair prevents them from doing their secular jobs, teaching the secular curriculum.

Naturally most major secular organizations across Canada have condemned the charter. So have most rights and civil liberties organizations. And even though most of our American friends are being conspicuously silent on the issue, some have managed to see through the bullshit.

But I think Terry Firma’s simple observation boils the complex legal and rights issues down nicely: if Québec’s secularism is so weak that the mere sight of a doctor in a dastar, a teacher in a hijab, or a bus driver in a kippah can threaten it… Québec’s “secularism” isn’t as robust as they would like to pretend.

CC BY-SA 4.0
The Québec Charter of Values and secular weakness by Indi in the Wired is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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