Protect all rights

By 
  • August 24, 2012
Quebec society has been chipping away at its religious foundation for years so it should be no surprise that the party poised to form the province’s next government is championing a full-blown Charter of Secularism.

Still, this is a sad testament on the state of spiritual life in what was once Canada’s most faith-filled province. Although there has been some opposition to the proposal, Quebecers have not risen up en masse to denounce the notion of a secular charter or to criticize its authors, the Parti Quebecois, which proposed this unfortunate piece of legislation.

PQ leader Pauline Marois intends to make her secularist charter a priority should her party form the government after Quebecers go to the polls Sept. 4. The gist of the policy is to prohibit public-sector employees from wearing “conspicuous religious signs.” The PQ has not released details, but the legislation is expected to target such religious items as the Jewish yarmulke, Muslim hijab and Sikh kirpan.

Such legislation would be a clear contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects religious expression. But Marois said she’ll override the Charter by invoking the notwithstanding clause because, she said, “we insist on conserving our identity, our language, our institutions and our values.”

Catholic expressions of faith, however, are to be mostly exempt. Civil servants, for instance, will be permitted to wear a chain with a crucifix if it is “discreet,” and a large crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly will remain because, said Marois, it is a part of Quebec history and “we don’t have to renounce our history.”

Catholics should find little consolation in these concessions. All of society has a stake when any government disrespects fundamental rights. And all people of faith should be particularly alarmed when any group’s religious freedom is threatened.

Religious freedom is an inalienable right that is essential to the dignity of all people and, as such, it must be protected by civil authority, according to the catechism. Pope John Paul II said all social and cultural discrimination, including religious discrimination, must be “eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.” Pope Benedict once called it “inconceivable” that people should be forced to suppress their faith or “denied the right to act in accordance with their religious convictions.”

Pope Benedict’s comments were in response to violent persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa.  What the PQ proposes is tame by comparison. But it is discrimination nonetheless and should be denounced; freedom of religious expression is an inalienable right of all people.

Christian nations can hardly demand foreign governments respect the rights of religious minorities if Christians are unwilling to defend full expression of those fundamental freedoms at home.

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