Children’s Rights Before Teachers’

Opponents of Quebec’s Bill 21 Neglect the Rights of Children


A recent article in the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir explains eloquently the importance of banning religious symbols worn by teachers.

Sommaire en français Un récent texte de Christian Rioux dans Le Devoir explique de façon éloquente l’importance d’interdire les signes religieux portés par les enseignants.

This blog is inspired by a recent article by Christian Rioux, published in the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir on 2019-04-26, entitled « Les enfants d’abord » or “Children first of all.” I will add a few personal comments, but mainly I will just translate several key passages of this excellent article, which eloquently explains the importance of banning religious symbols worn by teachers. Rioux begins:

“Do you believe in God?” The question comes sometimes from a little blond boy seated at the back of the class. Or, it may come from a little girl, shy and somewhat unsure of herself, sitting in the first row. How many times has the teacher been asked this question? Countless times. But each time, her response is the same: “It’s really not important what I believe.”

The important thing is to bring the child back to the lesson in progress. To say to him or her that some are believers and some are not. For the Québécoise teacher I am talking about here—and she is no exception to the rule, far from it—the very idea of revealing her personal religious convictions or lack thereof would have been indecent, a lack of respect for the young minds whose education was entrusted to her.

Remember, Quebec’s Draft Bill 21, if adopted, will ban religious symbols worn by police, judges, prosecutors and prison guards, as well as teachers in the public school system. After quoting a moving 1959 letter from Louis Germain to his former pupil Albert Camus (I encourage you to read Rioux’ original article if you read French), Rioux continues:

For Louis Germain, the secular schoolteacher’s duties came before his or her rights. The fact that the current debate about secularism has been perverted by a concentration on the rights of adults shows just how little consideration we give to children.

Is it really necessary to remind everyone that the authority of a judge, a policeman or policewoman or a prison guard is exercised over persons who are adults and fully vaccinated? What make the teacher’s authority so much more important is that it is applied to children whose innocence and intellectual vulnerability should motivate the teacher to exercise a great deal of restraint. In fact, everywhere where secularism exists, it is the public school teacher who is its greatest icon, much more so than judges, police or prison guards.

Indeed, the rôle of a teacher is so important.

The anti-secularists (and even some hypocrites who claim to be secularists) oppose Quebec’s Draft Bill 21 by claiming that it discriminates against Muslims. This is complete nonsense. As Rioux explains, banning religious symbols worn by teachers will have a very beneficial effect especially for Muslims, as well as for everyone else. Here is how Rioux expresses it:

…the pupil who will be the most uncomfortable at the sight of a teacher wearing an Islamic veil will not be the little Catholic child, or the child from a family with no religion. On the contrary, it will be the little Muslim (and his or her parents) who will never feel completely free when confronted by a teacher who so blatantly and ostentatiously flaunts her religious beliefs.

In reality, allowing religious symbols in public schools shows a great deal of contempt for the rights of children:

The lack of consideration which some show for children in the current debate is an indicator of how it has become fashionable for schools to be completely open and exposed to anything and everything. Schools in which lobbies and ideologies, beliefs and opinions are allowed to parade around without limit. But for schools to play their proper role, they must be a refuge where it is possible to step back and take a global view of things.

Children’s rights must take precedence over those of teachers. Schools exist for the education of pupils and students. Teachers are there to serve that purpose and their behaviour must not be allowed to impinge upon the rights of the pupils and student who are the reason schools exist. Most teachers understand this. But opponents of secularism would have us forget it; they would allow teachers and all other public servants to proselytize while on the job.

Next blog: Plaidoyer pour la laïcité dans les hôpitaux

One thought on “Children’s Rights Before Teachers’”

  1. Thank you, David, for your thoughts on this, and for the translation. And thank you to Christian Rioux.
    I am very worried for the children in our schools. Due to socialization, young children will very likely not ask the teacher in the hijab or turban, “Do you believe in God?” The child might not understand anything about Islam or Sikhism, but will recognize that the teacher is very religious, and so they must not ask the God question for fear of causing serious offence. (Or getting in to serious trouble!)

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