Should free speech and religious rights be restricted the moment a person begins working for the government? This is the very question that some politicians in Quebec, Canada, are asking.
Leaders in the province could soon make a definitive decision that would essentially ban public workers from wearing discernible religious symbols. The regulation would be part of the proposed “Charter of Quebec Values,” a set of laws that would ensure a strict line is drawn between church and state.
In what can only be described as sweeping, civil servants, teachers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, police and public day care employees, would be banned from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols, as Religion News Service’s Ron Csillag reported this week.
The move would put members of all faiths on alert. No large crosses or crucifixes (small ones are apparently allowed), headscarves, turbans, yarmulkes or other related items — many of which are requirements for adherents of well-known and common faiths.
The goal in enacting this potential regulation? Ensuring and instilling secularism.
Canada’s CBC News provides a list of five changes that would take effect if the “Charter of Quebec Values” is adopted:
- Bar public sector employees — including everyone from civil servants to teachers, provincial court judges, daycare workers, police, health-care personnel, municipal employees and university staff — from wearing a hijab, turban, kippa, large visible crucifix or other “ostentatious” religious symbols while on the job.
- Allow five-year opt-outs from the ban for certain organizations, but not daycare workers or elementary school teachers.
- Require that those receiving or providing government services uncover their faces.
- Exempt elected members of the Quebec legislature from the regulations.
- Amend Quebec’s human rights legislation, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, to specify limits on when someone can stake a claim for religious accommodation.
What’s perhaps even more surprising than the text itself is that the majority of residents in Quebec support the measure (one poll found that 66 percent of residents support it; another found the proportion a bit lower at 61 percent).
In pushing for secularism, the theme of “shared values” is being touted. In fact, when Bernard Drainville spoke about the plan on Sep. 10, he was clear that a common set of ideals was at its center.
“The time has come to rally around our common values. They define who we are. Let’s be proud of them,” said Drainville.
Of the plan, CBC’s James Fitz-Morris notes that a grander debate could unfold if politicians in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, stand up against the measure.
“So, it would appear under the proposed charter of Quebec values, some are more valuable than others,” he wrote on Fri. “That suggests a possible violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its protection of freedom of religion, which would obligate Ottawa to fight it tooth and nail.”
The proposed changes come from the leftist Parti Québécois, which also advocates to make Quebec a sovereign state. If the charter is halted by the Canadian government, Fitz-Morris argues that the party could get what it wants: A validation that the people living within Quebec are vastly different from others in Canada and, thus, deserve to be separate.
The debate over the measure is obviously ongoing. Though its future is uncertain — and despite the fact that the majority support it — concern over how younger voters will view its intentions could also come into play.
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(H/T: Religion News Service)