Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine says Quebec’s plan against religious symbols will create a “second-class citizen.” CNS photo

Proposed law to ban religious symbols in Quebec violates religious freedom, Catholic leaders say

  • October 18, 2018

OTTAWA – A proposed law by Quebec’s new government that would ban religious symbols is a clear violation of fundamental rights, said Montreal’s archbishop and Canada’s former Ambassador of Religious Freedom.

“It’s unacceptable and it’s a violation of peoples’ religious freedom, pure and simple,” said Andrew Bennett, former religious freedom ambassador and now director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute

He called on the federal government and every religious community in Canada to “put significant pressure” on the newly-elected Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government of Premier-designate Francois Legault.

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine said expressions of religion are part of being a citizen.

“Nobody is a second-class citizen,” he said. “If you say a certain religious symbol does not have its place in the public square, what does it say to those who believe, whatever their faith? It’s interpreted as believers are not full citizens.”

Legault’s CAQ party came to power Oct. 1 by trouncing the Liberals, winning 74 seats to 32 for the Liberals.  

Legault campaigned on a promise to enforce secularism across the province. That means banning religious symbols from the clothing of people in authority, including teachers, judges and police officers. 

Legault told journalists he would invoke the notwithstanding clause should the proposed law be deemed unconstitutional.

“I’d like the Quebec government to explain what they see as the threat,” Bennett said. “What’s the threat with Jews wearing the kippah, faithful Muslims wearing hijabs and faithful Christians wearing crosses?”

Lépine said he is concerned about the direction in which Quebec society is heading.

“It’s not only the measures themselves, but on what road are we walking?” he asked. “You build peace by respecting other peoples’ beliefs.”

Bennett called the proposed law an “ongoing project of elites in Quebec society to advance a radical secularism.” He objected to the “myth that somehow the state adopting a secular position is somehow neutral.”

“(Secularism) is not neutral,” he said. “It makes an assertion about citizenship and about who is welcome and who is not welcome in Quebec society.”

He said it is “hubris” for secularists to assert they are being neutral. Secularism is a belief system much as religions have belief systems, he said. 

“There’s a tremendous hypocrisy on the part of CAQ and others in Quebec society,” Bennett said. 

“Quebec wants to welcome immigrants that are French-speaking to help develop French society,” he said. 

“That’s a great goal. We should have that. But a lot of people who come to Quebec from other parts of the world are devoutly religious” whether Christian, Muslim, Baha’i or other faiths.

The government, however, has no plans to get rid of the crucifix inside the National Assembly, a recommendation of the 2008 Bouchard Taylor Commission on cultural and religious accommodation.

Lépine said the crucifix signals that Quebec has a history and identity. 

He called the crucifix a “visible sign” of the “values that are part of our history and part of the Quebec identity.” 

“We have reason to be proud of our history, proud of our traditions in the context of building peace, democracy. Identity and welcoming, they can go hand in hand,” he said.

Bennett said, as a political scientist, he believes that removing the crucifix would be a sign of the state’s neutrality. But he objects to CAQ classifying the crucifix as a symbol of Quebec’s heritage.

“To say that the crucifix, the instrument of our salvation, is simply a symbol — that’s an insult to every faithful Catholic, every faithful Christian in this country,” he said. 

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