Women in Montreal protest a proposed city Charter of Values in this 2013 file photo. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

Churches want changes to anti-niqab law

  • November 27, 2017
Quebec’s new anti-niqab law, which bans a small minority of Muslim women from public sector jobs and from receiving government services because they cover their faces in public, fails the basic test of justice, says the Canadian Council of Churches.

In a Nov. 10 letter to Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, Council president Rev. Canon Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan asked the provincial government to “remove those provisions which hinder freedom of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression and seek to foster the full participation of all religious communities in public life in Canada.”

Bill 62, which was passed Oct. 18 in Quebec’s National Assembly, is formally named “An act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies.” A challenge to the law before the Quebec Superior Court has been launched by a Quebec woman who wears the veil, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“We do not believe that the Government of Québec is fulfilling the demands of justice for all people in Quebec,” said the Canadian Council of Churches’ letter.

The CCC is the world’s broadest ecumenical gathering of churches, representing about 85 per cent of Canadian Christians. Its position against Bill 62 echoes objections brought by the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops in October 2016.

“Given all that has led to this bill in recent years, it must rest on nothing less than an explicit recognition of fundamental principles of freedom of conscience and religion,” the bishops told hearings on the bill.

At an open debate on the new law in Montreal’s Grand Seminaire Nov. 17, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine questioned how a law regulating the clothing women are permitted in public is consistent with Quebec values.

“If we say, ‘When you wear a symbol of your religion you must be invisible, we should not see you,’ are we promoting dialogue, respect and peace?” he asked.

“Religious symbols and attire can be intrinsic to one’s faith and cannot be removed at a whim,” said Barnett-Cowan’s letter on the subject.

“We therefore understand that the state should normally have no role in regulating their use.”

Cowan argued that the new law undermines the secular religious neutrality of the state.

“To be a secular state means to remain pluralistic. Secularism includes freedom of belief, both in one’s private and public life,” she wrote.

“Thus, there should be no official religion in this country, but neither should there be any form of official atheism.”

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