Since his election in October, Quebec’s premier François Legault has vowed to stop government workers — including cops and teachers — from wearing religious symbols like hijabs and yarmulkes and turbans “in order to protect Quebec’s secular society.” It’s a move that trounces on religious freedom in the name of religious neutrality and creates far more problems than it solves.
On Thursday, his government followed through on that with a bill that would basically “grandfather in” whatever people wear now while prohibiting new hires from wearing the same religious symbols. And just to make sure no pesky civil rights groups get in the way, Legault says he’ll invoke a “notwithstanding clause” that basically immunizes the law from legal action.
The notwithstanding clause, officially called Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows provincial or federal authorities to override certain sections of the charter for a period of five years.
Civil rights groups have already vowed to challenge the legislation, but Legault has repeatedly said he’s prepared to use the notwithstanding clause to impose the ban.
He said so again on Tuesday.
“It’s not a small thing. It’s a big decision. But sometimes, in order to protect collective rights, we have to use it. I think we have to protect our collective identity,” Legault said, pointing out the clause has been invoked numerous times by different premiers.
“To separate religion and politics is important in Quebec.”
As someone who actively supports the separation of religion and politics, the concern has always been government interfering in someone’s ability to worship as well as religion being used to guide legislation. What Legault is freaking out about are personal expressions of faith even when they’re harmless.
No one is better off because a teacher can’t wear a headscarf or a police officer can’t wear a yarmulke. Imposing secularism will not lead to a unified country, especially at a time when religious minorities worldwide are frequently persecuted.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already spoken out against the proposed legislation, saying it would codify religious discrimination.
“Quebeckers, like all Canadians, are proud of living in a free and just society and I don’t think that a lot of people feel that in a free society, we should be legitimizing discrimination of our citizens based on religion.”
All this being said, the draft legislation doesn’t include any kind of punishment for those who don’t obey the rules. One school district has already said it won’t comply.
Before the text was even made public, one Montreal school board declared its intention to disobey the law, saying a ban on religious symbols would violate the charter of rights. The English Montreal School Board adopted a motion Wednesday declaring its refusal to implement legislation restricting the wearing of religious symbols.
The only upside to this mode of thinking is that another motion was introduced to get rid of a large crucifix hanging in Quebec’s National Assembly, and it was unanimously approved. (Legault previously said he didn’t care if it stayed because he deemed it “historical” and not “religious.)
That change is a welcome one.
Bill 21, however, is going to create a slew of problems and provide plenty of ammunition for critics of church/state separation. Advocates have always been able to say they support religious freedom for all, even if we want to make sure the government remains secular. Forcing government officials like teachers and cops and certain lawyers to shed any outward indication of their religion goes far beyond what’s necessary to maintain a secular government — and it’s bound to fuel even more anger from people who already scream religious persecution at every turn.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Brian for the link)