Editorial: A shameful law

  • April 4, 2019

A recent cover of The Catholic Register featured a heartbreaking picture of a tearful woman in a hijab being comforted in the wake of the New Zealand mosque attacks.

She was identifiably Muslim because of her hijab, a simple scarf seen often on the streets of diverse societies, but in Quebec soon to become justification to deny women many government jobs. And it’s not just hijab wearers. People who as a matter of faith wear a turban, clerical collar, religious habit, niqab, kippah or display other religious symbols will be declared ineligible to fill a long list of public-sector jobs.

Under a law before Quebec’s National Assembly, people must shun religious clothing and accessories on the job or be blocked from becoming teachers, police officers, judges, librarians, prison guards and even wildlife officers, to name just some affected careers. In addition, people will be denied access to many public services, from riding buses to using libraries, unless their faces are uncovered. So much for diversity and equality.

The law Quebec is hell-bent on passing is a clear breach of religious rights, according to most legal experts. Yet by invoking the notwithstanding clause Quebec lawmakers will thumb their nose at the Charter of Rights and pass this shameful legislation.

It may be on firm legal ground but, morally, the ruling CAQ party is defaulting on a fundamental duty when it ignores religious and minority rights and acts in ways likely to embolden hate-mongers.

Governments should feel obligated to defend religious rights. This law does the opposite. It’s a wart that should be cut out before it grows.

Quebec’s political leaders view their actions as a perfectly logical means to realize a vision of a totally secular society.

To them, secularism and religion can’t co-exist in the public square. But this vision is flawed. A modern secular state does not relegate religion to the shadows; it acknowledges religion as a vibrant component of pluralistic societies as it builds institutions and fosters attitudes that promote accommodation and tolerance for religious differences.

Instead, Quebec is erecting an ideological wall that will isolate and stigmatize religious believers, particularly but not exclusively Muslim women. A law that implies that people who wear religious clothing are incapable of acting impartially in public service only reinforces harmful stereotypes and fuels the noxious notion that is it acceptable to make judgments based on a person’s beliefs and appearance.

Religious followers are entitled to an equal place in society. It is wrong to elbow them into a secular closet or bully them with laws that enforce secular dress codes. Freedom of religion and religious expression is much more than a right to pray. It is a right to express faith openly and engage in the public square as full and equal citizens.

Scorn of this principle has no place in society.

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