Secularism Bill 21 Passed In Quebec

Photo Credit: Owlcation

Public sector workers in position of authority should be banned from wearing any sort of religious symbolism while at job after Quebec's Bill 21 passed in the provincial assembly. It would bar Muslim women from wearing the hijab, Sikhs from wearing turbans and Jewish men from wearing kippas, among others, and Christians should also have to remove their crosses. Besides those who work as teachers, police officers and judges, the measure would also prohibit anyone from wearing religious symbols while receiving services from government bodies. For example, women wearing religious covering would not be able to use a bus without revealing their faces; also people wearing religious symbols would not be able to receive services from doctors, dentists, school boards, etc.

The governing Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) promised to pass this measure in last fall's electoral campaign in order to protect the secularity of the province and to raise the importance to the equality of women and men. Quebec Premier Francois Legault was also supporting the bill stating that it is not discriminatory and that it would settle the issue of religious symbols in the public sphere once and for all. But this bill immediately drew criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who thinks that the measure is unthinkable and that it legitimizes discrimination against citizens based on their religion.

Groups representing religious minorities were largely unsupportive of the bill and said it is discriminatory. “What it does is disadvantage the women who want to practice their faith from participating in the labor market,” said Nuzhat Jafri, who is executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, according to Religion News Service. “We’re not talking about large numbers of people foisting their religion on anyone,” Jafri said. “Women are practicing their faith and at the same time they want to be full participants in Quebec society.”

On the other hand there were those in support of the bill who insisted such measures are necessary to preserve Quebec’s religious neutrality. “For us, democracy is inseparable from secularism,” said Diane Guilbault, president of Pour les droits des Femmes (For the Rights of Women), as Religion News Service reports. “We are not asking for the end of religions. We are asking for the state to disassociate itself completely from them in its relations with citizens,” she said, pointing to how people use religious pretexts to deny rights to women. “The majority of Quebecers — of all backgrounds — support a secular state,” she said.

This was the fourth attempt in the legislature to ban religious symbols in the public sector and this time the Bill passed with 73 in favor and 35 against.

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