Secularism Betrayed, Epilogue and Update


Sommaire en français
Deux développements récents, dont l’un très positif, sont venus modifier la situation suivant la défaite de la Charte péquiste.
Premièrement, la décision de la Cour suprême du Canada, rendue le 15 avril 2015, a interdit la prière lors des séances de conseils municipaux, mais a des implications beaucoup plus vastes car elle spécifie que l’État doit protéger la liberté de conscience des incroyants autant que celle des croyants. La Cour prend donc au sérieux la liberté de s’affranchir de la religion, non seulement la liberté de religion. Elle impose ainsi un devoir de neutralité religieuse aux représentants de l’État, c’est-à-dire les fonctionnaires des services publics, durant leurs heures de travail. Cela constitue un appui à la prohibition du port de signes religieux telle que stipulée dans la Charte de la laïcité proposée par le gouvernement péquiste en 2013.
Le deuxième développement est beaucoup moins heureux. Le gouvernement Couillard (Parti Libéral du Québec, PLQ) qui a défait le gouvernement péquiste, vient de proposer plusieurs projets de loi et un soi-disant plan d’action pour contrer la radicalisation. Le projet de loi 62 sur la « neutralité religieuse de l’État » ne mentionne ni la laïcité ni la séparation entre religions et État ; il ne fait qu’interdire le port du voile intégral dans la fonction publique. Le projet de loi 59 « contre les discours haineux et les discours incitant à la violence » est carrément liberticide car elle compromet le droit de critiquer les religions. Le plan d’action manque complètement sa cible en visant la soi-disant « islamophobie » au lieu de lutter contre la vraie cause de la radicalisation, soit la propagande islamiste.

The previous three blogs form a series entitled “Secularism Betrayed” recounting the story of the defeat of the Quebec Charter of Secularism, i.e. how mindless conformism led some ostensible secularists, in a shameful betrayal of their espoused principles, to oppose legislation which by any reasonable logic they should have supported, thus squandering an opportunity of historic proportions. That series was written in January of 2015. This current blog is an update dealing with relevant recent developments.

In recent months, two major developments have occurred. One is grounds for great optimism, a major victory for secularism. The other tends to confirm the pessimism expressed in Parts I, II and III. Both developments, in their own way, underline just how important the Charter was, and the enormity of having squandered the opportunity that it represented.

The Supreme Court defends secularism …

On April 15th 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the Saguenay prayer case. The Court ruled against the practice of prayer at Saguenay city council meetings and, by extension, implied that all municipalities which engage in this practice are violating the freedom of conscience of anyone who does not adhere to the religion expressed by the prayer. However the decision goes much further than the mere question of prayer and rules clearly on the state’s duty to protect the freedom of conscience of non-believers, not just that of religious believers.

[84] …because of the duty of religious neutrality with which it is required to comply, the state may not profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others. Obviously, the state itself cannot engage in a religious practice, so the practice would be one engaged in by one or more state officials, who would have to be acting in the performance of their functions. Where state officials, in the performance of their functions, profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others, the first two criteria for discrimination mentioned above, namely that there be an exclusion, distinction or preference and that it be based on religion, are met.

The decision thus supports the duty of discretion, imposed on public servants when on the job, included in the PQ’s Charter. The justices also declare that:

[74] …I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals…

The distinction between institutions and individuals was used frequently during the Charter debate by Charter opponents who concluded from it that public employees must not be subject to a dress code, even while on duty. However it is crucial to recognize that in the above quote the individuals to whom the justices are referring are “private players,” i.e. NOT on duty. Indeed, later in the decision the judges make this very clear:

[119] …what is at issue here is the state’s adherence, through its officials acting in the performance of their functions, to a religious belief. The state, I should point out, does not have a freedom to believe or to manifest a belief; … it goes without saying that the same restrictions do not apply to the exercise by state officials of their own freedom of conscience and religion when they are not acting in an official capacity. Although they are not entitled to use public powers to profess their beliefs, this does not affect their right to exercise this freedom on a personal basis.

Thus, when individuals are not on duty the state must not restrict their freedom. However, when state officials are on duty, they must be neutral, because they are the state when they are working. The state has no existence except through its agents.

We can draw two major conclusions from this decision by the Supreme Court of Canada:

  1. The Court clearly defends freedom from religion as being just as important as freedom of religion; in other words, the Court takes seriously the rights of atheists and other non-believers, not just the rights of the religious. We can expect this to have widespread positive consequences for the future of secularism, both in the short term and probably for many years to come.
  2. The Court takes a more consistently pro-secular position than either CFIC or CSA.

… while Couillard undermines it.

Unfortunately, another more recent development is decidedly negative. The current government of Quebec — i.e. that of the Quebec Liberal party (PLQ) led by Philippe Couillard — has recently proposed legislation dealing with “religious neutrality” (Bill 62) which constitutes a sort of response to the Charter (Bill 60) proposed by the PQ government defeated by the PLQ in April of 2014. However, this new legislation covers almost nothing that the PQ’s Charter did, having all the shortcomings of the latter and practically none of its advantages. Bill 62 does not even mention secularism or separation between religion and state. It does little more than ban face-coverings in the public service.

Even worse is draft Bill 59, released on the same day, whose declared purpose is to combat “hate speech” and grants new powers to the CDPDJ, powers which, as feared (see Part III), threaten freedom of expression, especially criticism of religion.

Finally, an action plan put forward by the government to counter “radicalization” fails to address the problem of Islamist rhetoric which nourishes jihadism. In the document of over 30 pages describing the action plan, there is no mention of fundamentalism or Islamism, while Islamists are mentioned only as located in Syria and Iraq. Yet “Islamophobia” is mentioned repeatedly:

La radicalisation peut être renforcée par les préjugés, la discrimination et le racisme, des phénomènes qu’il faut combattre avec autant de fermeté. Les préjugés et la discrimination briment les droits et libertés de la personne auxquels la société québécoise est attachée et peuvent constituer un terreau fertile pour l’émergence de la radicalisation qui, à son tour, renforce des préjugés, dont l’islamophobie.

(Translation: Radicalization may be reinforced by prejudices, discrimination and racism, all phenomena which must be fought with equal determination. Prejudices and discrimination infringe on human rights and freedoms to which Quebec society is committed and may constitute fertile ground for the emergence of radicalization which, in turn, reinforces prejudices such as Islamophobia.)

The following phrases also occur in the document:

  • « la présence de préjugés racistes, parfois islamophobes »
    (“the presence of racist prejudices, sometimes Islamophobic”)
  • « déconstruire les préjugés, notamment islamophobes »
    (“deconstruct prejudices, in particular Islamophobic ones”)
  • « contrer les propos haineux et islamophobes »
    (“combat hateful and Islamophobic speech”)

Clearly the authors of the document are obsessed with “Islamophobia” and tend to confuse it with racism, which is irrational because Islam is a religion, not a race. One can quite legitimately be concerned about the dangerous nature of the religion Islam without being prejudiced against some particular ethnic group. Indeed, the document evidently blames radicalization on “prejudice” in general and “Islamophobia” in particular, while not even mentioning the obvious cause which is the extremist politico-religious ideology of Islamism. This is completely backwards: if prejudice against Muslims exists, it is caused by Islamist radicalism more than the other way around.

Among the measures proposed in the action plan — and codified in Bill 59 — is the addition to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms of a provision against «hate speech and speech inciting violence» based on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, of which religion is one. This provision would allow a person to lodge a complaint even though not oneself a target. Furthermore, Bill 59 allows for the suppression of such alleged speech by court order during the investigation period, i.e. before a ruling has been made.

Objectively, the PLQ led by Couillard are not fighting radicalization; rather they are enabling radical Islamism. The traditionalists and multiculturalists of the PLQ allied themselves with Islamists in order to defeat the PQ’s Charter. And now, they continue to facilitate the Islamists by promoting the false theory, so vehemently promoted by Islamists, that any problems are caused by so-called “Islamophobia.” In reality, that term is just a code word used to neutralize any criticism of Islam. And now the PLQ is proposing legislation which would use the power of the Quebec state against such criticism.

Next blog: “The Myth of Religious Obligations

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