Bill 21 as Seen by Four Quebec Secularists

2021-12-18

Four perspectives on Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21, from four prominent secular activists.

Sommaire en français Quatre points de vue sur la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État (Loi 21) du Québec, de quatre éminents militants laïques.

Here is a collection of articles about Quebec Bill 21. All four authors support the law, of course, as do all secular organizations in Quebec. Each gives his or her own perspective on Bill 21 and why that legislation is so significant. I have translated into English a few excerpts from their articles originally in French.

Marie-Claude Girard

Retired from the Canadian Human Rights Commission & Board member of the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL)

Loi sur la laïcité de l’État, Une loi résolument féministe (State Secularism Law, A Resolutely Feminist Law), 2021-12-17.

Mme Girard reminds us that most religious symbols are very different for women and for men; “each of them conveys distinct social status, values, roles and responsibilities, which exacerbate their sexist character.” Thus, it is false to claim that Bill 21 somehow penalizes women. Rather, it is religion which imposes the disparity between symbols and thus religion which causes different impacts.

In the Muslim religion, for example, it is women who wear more visible religious symbols (the hijab, for example). However, it is not the law that discriminates, but sexist religious demands.

Furthermore, Quebec is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). Of course it is not up to the State to regulate sexist religious practices everywhere, but it must nevertheless ensure that its own institutions are free from sexism. By banning State employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 is a resolutely feminist law.

Daniel Baril

President of the Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ)

Hijab à l’école, Un cas qui illustre la nécessité de la loi 21 (Hijab at school, A case illustrating the necessity of Bill 21), 2021-12-16.

Mr. Baril reminds Justin Trudeau that seven parents testified for the MLQ before Quebec Superior Court in late 2020, in support of Bill 21, underlining the importance of protecting the freedom of conscience of their children “in the face of the illegitimate desire of some teachers to display their religious beliefs in an ostentatious and permanent manner in the classroom.” In particular, Muslim parents argued that “wearing the hijab in class constitutes an incitement to fundamentalist religious practice…” Thus, it is teachers who wear religious symbols in class who violate freedom of conscience and religion. Bill 21, on the other hand, protects those freedoms.

Mr. Baril also reminds Bob Rae that no international declaration grants the right to practise one’s religion in the workplace. And we are dealing with practice here, not belief.

As for recent events in Chelsea, the teacher Fatemeh Anvari admitted that her hijab represents a religious and ideological combat. Thus, her intention is to transmit a message.

It is precisely this kind of militant proselytism that the Secularism Law seeks to prevent in schools. While the hijab carries meanings, these meanings conflict with the duty of religious and ideological reserve that a teacher owes to her students.

Mr. Baril also denounces the overwhelming naïveté and dishonesty of Jagmeet Singh who falsely claimed that Bill 21 discriminates against women. In reality, it is religion which discriminates, not secularism, by imposing different social norms on men and women. Finally, it is ridiculous to claim that reassigning Fatemeh Anvari to a non-teaching position had the effect of reducing “diversity” among teachers. By that logic, all teachers would be obliged to wear some kind of partisan symbol in order to maximize diversity. How about “God Does Not Exist” on t-shirts? Maybe then Trudeau and Singh would understand the need for secularism.

André Lamoureux

Political Scientist and Lecturer at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

La loi 21 n’est ni raciste ni antimusulmane (Bill 21 is Neither Racist nor Anti-Muslim), 2021-12-16.

Mr. Lamoureux underlines the denigration of Quebec which is evident in recent hostility towards Bill 21. Banning religious symbols worn by agents of the State is not a manifestation of anti-Muslim sentiment. For example, since 2004, Algeria imposes such a ban on customs agents, police and security personnel and the military, and bans the full veil for teachers. Yet Canada allows the full veil in citizenship ceremonies and when voting, ignoring the fact that it is

a symbol of enslavement for women, a cloth prison promoted in fact by oppressive politico-religious ideologies, including those of the Muslim Brotherhood, salafist movements and Iranian fundamentalist currents.

Belgium, France, Bulgaria, Austria and Denmark have all banned the full veil in public. Germany and the Netherlands have banned it in some contexts. These are democratic countries which have not been admonished by the courts of the European Union. Morocco has even banned the manufacture of the burqa. Sri Lanka also banned the full veil in the wake of a major terrorist attack by the Islamic State. Are all these decisions “Islamophobic”?

To reject the dogmas of religious fundamentalism and separate religion from State is a matter of democracy and the protection of the freedom of conscience of all, including that of children. Bill 21 is therefore not anti-Muslim. This is why the federal government must withdraw from the process of legal challenges to Quebec’s law and cease all funding for groups seeking to destroy it.

Jean-François Lisée

Journalist, Politician, Former Leader of the Parti québécois (PQ)

Laïcité et obscurantisme (Secularism and Obscurantism), 2021-12-15.

Mr. Lisée’s message is straightforward, bold and indispensable. After all the defamatory accusations and outrageous denigration,

The time has come to respond without inhibition on the subject of the Quebec law. It is feminist, anti-discriminatory and avant-garde. It is part of a centuries-old fight for enlightenment and against obscurantism. It is exemplary and courageous.

Bill 21 is feminist because it bans the display, by civil servants in positions of authority, of the misogynistic signs of religions, symbolizing modesty and submission, thus refusing to normalize them. By doing so, Bill 21 renders an important service “to all women in Quebec who are subject to a retrograde religious and family influence and who try to extricate themselves from it.”

Bill 21 is anti-discriminatory because (1) it applies to religious convictions the same duty of reserve which was previously applied only to political convictions and (2) because it applies equally to all religions.

Bill 21 is avant-garde because of Quebec’s unique experience with religion. Nowhere else in North America has a society been so overwhelmingly repressed by religious domination in the past and then progressed so rapidly and so decisively along the road towards secularization and personal freedoms.

Bill 21 is courageous because, in spite of all the venom and vilification which have been heaped on Quebec for affirming its language, culture and identity, both the PQ and the CAQ mustered the courage to propose important secular legislation. And during all that, the promoters of secularism such as Guy Rocher, Jolin-Barrette, Bernard Drainville and others have shown far more respect for their opponents than they received in return. The opponents of Bill 21, whether they like to admit it or not,

play into the hands of misogynist forces who would display symbols of women’s subservience within the very apparatus of the State, they advocate discrimination that puts religious convictions—and therefore superstitions—above all other convictions, they protect ostentatious and minority religions, to the detriment of those which are more respectful of civil rule, and they turn their backs on the growing number of citizens who are abandoning religious myths and dogmas. Far from participating in enlightenment, equality or the primacy of science and reason, opponents of Bill 21 hinder the march of progress. It is high time we let them know.

Next blog: Unworthy to be a Judge

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