The Extended Weinberg Principle


Otherwise intelligent people sometimes say the most absurd things once their thinking is infected with religious belief or meta-belief. In this blog I present and analyze several antisecular assertions (some made by so-called secularists) which are outrageously irrational. These declarations are representative of the antisecular socio-political climate which currently reigns in Canada.

Sommaire en français Des personnes normalement intelligentes sont capables de faire des déclarations d’une absurdité alarmante, une fois leur pensée infectée par des croyances ou des méta-croyances religieuses. Dans ce blogue je présente et analyse plusieurs assertions anti-laïques (faites parfois par des individus se disant « secularist ») qui sont hautement irrationnelles. Ces quatre assertions sont:

  1. Fournir un uniforme adapté spécifiquement aux agents de la GRC de religion sikhe ne constitue pas du favoritisme.
  2. Le port du niqab lors des cérémonies de citoyenneté est un « droit ».
  3. S’opposer au port du niqab lors des cérémonies de citoyenneté est raciste.
  4. Les partisans de la Charte de la laïcité du gouvernement PQ pratiquaient une politique de la haine tout comme Donald Trump aujourd’hui.

Ces déclarations témoignent du climat socio-politique antilaïque qui sévit actuellement au Canada.

There is a famous quotation, popular among atheists, from the American physicist Steven Weinberg:

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.

I call this the Weinberg Principle. In a 2015 AFT Blog (Turban: The Real Issue Remains Unresolved) I defined what I call the Extended Weinberg Principle as follows:

With or without religion, intelligent people will say and do intelligent things and stupid people will say and do stupid things; but for intelligent people to say or do stupid things—that takes religion.

I also call this phenomenon “voluntary selective stupidity” in which otherwise intelligent people choose to be foolish about a particular subject, usually religion. Indeed, there is nothing like religion to turn intelligent people into fools. This applies even to non-believers, who—although they may reject all religious beliefs—may nevertheless persist in holding and transmitting religious metabeliefs, i.e beliefs about belief. In this blog I give several examples.

Assertion #1

Firstly, consider the following statement:

Allowing RCMP officers to wear the Sikh turban while on duty does not constitute favouritism.

This assertion was made by a self-proclaimed secularist, who was clearly adept at the Orwellian language “Newspeak.” Recall that George Orwell, in his celebrated novel 1984, introduced Newspeak, a language so dishonest that it regularly asserted the exact opposite of a simple truth, oxymorons such as “Black is white” or “War is peace.” Indeed, allowing Sikh Mounties to wear the turban of their religion is precisely and obviously an example of favouritism towards a particular religion, i.e. religious privilege. The only way that it could not be a privilege would be if special uniforms were also made available for every other possible religion and indeed for every possible ideology: special dress for Christians, Pastafarians, Muslims, atheists, Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, Friedmanite capitalists, etc. The list is endless. Such a chaotic collection of ununiform uniforms would be unmanageable. Fortunately the RCMP does not do this. But it continues to offer this one privilege to Sikh men.

Assertion #2

Secondly, let us consider another example of Orwellian contradiction, this time on the subject of face-coverings:

Wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is a “right.”

Face-coverings are a serious impediment to communication and security and thus may legitmately be forbidden in many situations for reasons having nothing to do with either religion or secularism. But then along comes an adept of a particular religion who declares that she is “obligated” by her beliefs to wear a face-covering, called the niqab, at all times, even during a brief citizenship ceremony. The secular response would be, “The ban applies to everyone equally. No exceptions for religious reasons.”

But the current Canadian government of Justin Trudeau does precisely the opposite: it not only allows this religious accommodation, it says that it is the believer’s “right” which must be guaranteed! To make matters worse, the religion favoured here happens to be a particularly malignant, fundamentalist and extremist version of monotheism. By allowing it this privilege, the government is objectively enabling an extreme right-wing ideology.

Assertion #3

Thirdly, it gets worse. In a Feb. 16, 2016 article in the Globe & Mail, Gerald Caplan declared that:

To oppose wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is racist.

To be accurate, Caplan applied the word racist to describe “the demagogic racist campaign against the niqab by Mr. Harper and associates” but I suspect that the word “associates” means he is extending the accusation to all who favoured a ban on the niqab in that context. For one thing, the niqab is an emblem of an extreme variant of the religion Islam and has nothing to do with race. Islam is not a race. Islamism is not a race. Religion is not race. Criticizing a religion is not racist. The accusation is nonsense.

[…] some so-called secularists were so carried away by their hatred of Harper that they approved the niqab, apparently out of spite! This is like opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen.

We can probably assume that attempts by Harper and his Conservative gorvernment to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies were partially motivated by religious bigotry (i.e. Christians expressing anti-Muslim sentiment). Yet even by this worst possible interpretation, those attempts were objectively MORE secular than the shamefully antisecular position adopted by both the Liberals and the NDP—and by Caplan. In Canada outside Quebec, some so-called secularists were so carried away by their hatred of Harper that they approved the niqab, apparently out of spite! This is like opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen. Fortunately this did not occur in Quebec, where secularists resolutely and simultaneously opposed both Harper and the niqab.

The unscrupulous broadcasting of gratuitous accusations of racism, intolerance, xenophobia or “Islamophobia” is the hallmark of the regressive left (or centre). Caplan has chosen his camp. Not only is Caplan’s assertion irrational and unacceptable, if he were to direct such an accusation against an individual it would arguably be illegal because it could constitute personal libel, in which case I would suggest suing Mr. Caplan before the courts.

Assertion #4

Finally, two months after his election, our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement in which he opined that:

The Quebec Charter of Secularism (proposed by the previous Quebec government) was comparable to Donald Trump in promoting “the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric.”

While Caplan slandered supporters of a niqab ban in citizenship ceremonies, Trudeau here manages to slander the majority of Quebeckers who supported the Charter of Secularism. (Remember, the PQ government was defeated mainly because of its sovereignist program, not its Charter.) Working towards a secular state in which the public service is free of religious advertising is not “hateful.” Rather it is a plan for progress and freedom. Of course we have heard such nonsense before from many Charter opponents, but that does not make Trudeau’s statement any less unacceptable or any less defamatory. What is new is his addition of even further insult by comparing Charter supporters to that bigoted reality-TV clown Trump. It is Trudeau who is indulging in hateful rhetoric—against secularists.

Confusion and Intimidation

In describing the above examples of voluntary selective stupidity, I wish to emphasize that I am not labelling anyone as lacking intelligence. The accusation I am making is far more serious than that. I am saying that otherwise intelligent people are deliberately choosing to adopt a very unintelligent and dangerous position with respect to a religious issue. This is inexcusable. If they did lack intelligence, that would at least constitute some excuse.

I have listed the above examples in order of increasing seriousness, ranking Caplan’s and Trudeau’s slanderous accusations as worse than the unreasonable religious accommodations in assertions 1 and 2. However, in the final analysis, they are simply two sides of the same coin. I have heard many people make statements equivalent or similar to the first two assertions, but I have never heard any of them denounce—or even distance themselves from—the defamatory rhetoric of the last two assertions. While the first two lead to confusion about secularism, assertions 3 and 4 accuse those of us who remain committed secularists of all sorts of horrible sins (racism, xenophobia, intolerance, etc.), thus intimidating the confused so much that they are afraid to even consider what we have to say.

I recently saw a particularly onerous example of this on Facebook: a person claiming to be a secularist declared, “I am not a dress code bigot.” As if it were possible to have a secular state with NO dress codes at all! We can debate whether secular dress codes should apply to all public servants on duty, or only to certain categories, but it is inevitable that such codes must apply at least to state agents with coercive authority—or do you want your police and judges to wear collanders, g-strings, hijabs and large crucifixes while on duty? Even without secularism, implicit and explicit dress codes are ubiquitous, including many workplaces and professions. Clearly this person has been bullied into submission by the incessant and virulent antisecular propaganda which has inundated the media in the last few years and poisoned the debate.

a climate of antisecular intimidation, where multiculturalist ideologues echo the discourse of Islamists, throwing around outrageous insults whose purpose is to silence anyone who dares to question the dominant ideology of religious privilege […]

If the four assertions listed above are not explained by a lack of intelligence, then what on earth could have motivated anyone to say such inanities? We do not need to know each individual’s personal reasons. It is enough to understand the socio-political climate which facilitates and encourages the expression of such nonsense: a climate of antisecular intimidation, where multiculturalist ideologues echo the discourse of Islamists, throwing around outrageous insults whose purpose is to silence anyone who dares to question the dominant ideology of religious privilege, i.e. the meta-belief that religion must have priority over other considerations, the meta-belief that religious beliefs are so overwhelmingly essential to personal identity that their blatant expression must never be curtailed— not even among public servants on the job, nor even for the few minutes duration of an official ceremony.

Where are the Secularist Voices?

Unfortunately the assertions stated above may be representative of majority opinion among so-called secularists in Canada. If so, then we have a serious problem. Even if this is not the case, we still have a serious problem, because of the near-total silence. Why have we not heard dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of pro-secular voices raised in protest against the misrepresentation of secularism and the denigration of secularists?

Clearly, if Canadian pseudo-secularists aspire to become secularists, they must abandon their political and intellectual cowardice as well as their reactionary attachment to ethno-religious determinism, which they sugar-coat with the label “multiculturalism.” They must stop worshipping at the altar of Saint Justin. In particular, they must stop opposing pro-secular measures simply because the government proposing such measures may happen to be unpopular.

Next blog: Of Pigs and Prayer

Freedom of Religion is Not Fundamental

Rather, it is freedom of conscience which is a fundamental freedom.


The repeated use of the term “freedom of religion”—while omitting “freedom from religion”—is an expression of, and indeed a cause of, religious privilege and discrimination against atheists and other non-believers.

Sommaire en français L’usage fréquent et répété du terme « liberté de religion » — sans l’inclusion de la « liberté de s’affranchir de la religion » — est une manifestation, et au fond une cause, du privilège religieux et de la discrimination contre les athées et les autres incroyants.

Freedom of religion—the freedom to believe in and practise the religion of one’s choice—is incomplete, even meaningless, unless it is accompanied by freedom FROM religion—the freedom to disbelief, to have no religious belief or practise at all, to be atheist. These two freedoms complete each other and both are subsumed by freedom of conscience (or of thought). Thus, it is freedom of conscience which is fundamental, whereas the others are consequences of it.

And yet, despite this obvious symmetry, freedom of religion is explicitly declared far more often than freedom FROM religion. This situation must change, and it is up to us atheists to initiate this change, and to insist that others follow our lead. In an era when it has become common practise to write “he/she” or “she/he” instead of simply “he”—when failing to include females in a conversation about human beings is considered discriminatory—it is unacceptable that “freedom of religion” be repeatedly mentioned without simultaneously including “freedom from religion” in the discussion. And if brevity is required, a simple mention of “freedom of conscience” suffices to imply both.

A June 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) ) points out, in paragaph [70], that:

[…] freedom of religion includes the freedom to have no religious beliefs whatsoever. For the purposes of the protections afforded by the charters, the concepts of “belief” and “religion” encompass non-belief, atheism and agnosticism.

This is indeed good news as far as it goes, because it indicates that the Court interprets freedom of religion to include freedom from religion as well, and we can expect that future decisions from the Court will, in all likelihood, tend to respect that inclusion. However, it is not enough. In order to assure adequate legal protection for non-belief and for atheists, freedom FROM religion must be explicitly mentioned, not merely implicitly understood, wherever necessary.

Indeed, the same Supreme Court decision also stipulated in paragraph [149] that the infamous reference to “the supremacy of God” in the preamble to the Canadian Constitution

does not limit the scope of freedom of conscience and religion and does not have the effect of granting a privileged status to theistic religious practices.

This completely undercuts the argument used by religious apologists that the reference justifies religious privileges such as prayers at municipal council meetings, rendering the mention of “the supremacy of God” practically null and void. However, I do not think that any secularist would be satisfied with leaving that reference where it is, no matter how weak it has become. There is always the danger that a future interpretation will give some renewed weight to the religious argument; basing a constitution on the unknowable dictates of a hypothetical (i.e. fictional) entity is a recipe for irrationality and arbitrary injustice. Getting rid of it is now perhaps less urgent, but no less essential.

The frequent use of the unbalanced and unaccompanied expression “freedom of religion” in many contexts and over many years has had and continues to have the psychological effect of habituating us to religious privileges as normal and inevitable. We need to unlearn this very bad habit.

Similarly, we cannot rely on future judges continuing to interpret “freedom of religion” to include “freedom from religion.” To consolidate this gain, we need to make the latter freedom explicit.

We must therefore be suspicious of every declaration—especially if it occurs in legislation—of “freedom of religion” alone. Either it needs to be completed by explicitly adding “freedom from religion” or, in some cases, it should simply be eliminated. One example of the latter case is line 17.1.b of the Citizenship Regulations which stipulates that the citizenship judge shall allow:

the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof;

I fail to see why religion or freedom of religion should even be mentioned in this context. It is completely inappropriate. This provision should be repealed.

Another example of the unbalanced approach, where religion is promoted to the detriment of the freedom to be a non-believer, would be the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program which since 2008 has been obligatory in Quebec public schools. This program presents a very sugar-coated image of several religious traditions—disturbingly slanted towards the more pious and strict forms of religiosity—while almost completely ignoring the possibility of atheism.

Yet another example, but worse, far worse in fact, is the self-serving and utterly false “freedom” promoted by Muslim fundamentalists and Islamists for whom apostasy (i.e. leaving one’s religion) is a crime. It is a very chilling fact that, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, millions of Muslims are of the opinion that apostasy should be punishable by death. This is an instance where so-called “freedom of religion” is absolutely worthless because the concomitant freedom to have no religion is completely denied.

We thus see the overwhelming importance of defending apostasy—i.e. the freedom to abandon a religion if one so desires—as a human right.

The frequent use of the unbalanced and unaccompanied expression “freedom of religion” in many contexts and over many years has had and continues to have the psychological effect of habituating us to religious privileges as normal and inevitable. We need to unlearn this very bad habit. Depending on the particular context, the expression needs to be balanced by adding “freedom from religion” to accompany it, or replaced by “freedom of conscience,” or simply removed entirely.

Next blog: Apostasy is a Human Right

How to Reassure a Concerned Citizenry … and how NOT to

A Thought Experiment


Sommaire en français

J’évoque l’exemple d’un pays hypothétique dans lequel un petit groupe d’intégristes chrétiens a obtenu, par des moyens purement légaux, le privilège de faire une courte prière au début de chaque séance journalière de l’assemblée nationale. Je compare cet exemple fictif avec le scénario tristement réel où des intégristes islamistes ont obtenu le privilège de se soustraire à une règle gérant les cérémonies de cityonneté et ce, pour des motifs religieux.
La solution évidente et nécessaire : modifier la loi pour que cette exception ne soit plus permise.
Ce qui est totalement ridicule dans cette affaire, c’est que les gens qui veulent mettre fin à ce privilège religieux et osent appuyer l’idée d’une prohibition sont traités d’« intolérants » et même de « racistes ». C’est le monde à l’envers.

In the fictional country X, a small group of fundamentalist Christians has just taken advantage of a loophole in X’s legislation and won a legal victory which allows them to hold a brief prayer at the beginning of every day’s session of the country’s legislative assembly. Although perfectly legal according to the laws of X, this is clearly a violation of everyone else’s freedom of conscience and a privilege granted to a particular religion, Christianity. The population of X is, in a very large proportion, opposed to this situation. So-called moderate Christians are divided on the issue: some sympathize with the fundamentalists, but many recognize that this situation is unfair and reject this unwanted privilege. A degree of hostility towards Christians begins to manifest itself in public opinion. Although no recent cases of anti-Christian hate propaganda or violence have been confirmed, there is fear—among both authorities and the population itself—that such incidents may in the near future begin to occur. What is to be done?

The answer is obvious. Doing nothing is not an option. The government must introduce legislation which will put an end to this privilege by removing from the laws of the land whatever it was that allowed the fundamentalists to win it. At the same time, it must make sure that the new legislation in no way threatens the freedom of Christians or any other sect to practice their religion as they always have—in private, with co-religionists, or even in public, but NOT in public institutions such as the legislature. The media also have a duty, the same duty they have always had, to report events and facts objectively. They may very well be sceptical of any new legislation which the government proposes, so they should examine it in detail, of course, in order to determine whether it is as fair as promised, or whether it goes too far, or not far enough. As for those “moderate” Christians, any who sympathize with the fundamentalists must be made to understand that they are part of the problem because their support enables their more radical co-religionists.

Canada has just gone through a situation very similar to the hypothetical one described above. In our real scenario the religion is fundamentalist Islam, not fundamentalist Christianity, and, instead of a brief prayer, the privilege accorded is the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. Now some might argue that prayers and full veils have nothing in common. They would be wrong, because each is being imposed on a civic event by an appeal to religious privilege: the Christians demand the privilege of reciting a sectarian prayer before an assembly whose purpose should be to represent all citizens, whereas the Islamists insist on a special exception, for religious reasons, to a rule against face-coverings during official ceremonies. Each of these demands involves a religious manifestation in an inappropriate context. It is true that wearing the niqab does not necessarily take up other participants’ time (although it might, because of extra time required to verify identity). However the niqab is worse in that it imposes a serious barrier to human communication and interaction, indeed it is a refusal to participate fully with other citizens.

As I write these lines, the 2015 federal election campaign is drawing to an end. Today, October 19th, is election day. By the time you read this, it will be over, but the niqab issue will almost certainly not be resolved. And even if it were, similar issues are sure to rear their ugly heads in the months and years to come. This controversy is no isolated incident. The problem will not go away on its own.

So how did authorities react in this real situation? The government’s response went in the right direction—i.e. they plan to appeal, yet again, the court decision ending the niqab ban—but inadequately so. The appeal cannot succeed because the ban is based on a mere ministerial directive. What is really needed is legislation to modify the Citizenship Act at least, and probably other laws as well. On the other hand, the response of both opposition parties was worse: a promise to do NOTHING, to capitulate to religious fanaticism and religious privilege, to allow the niqab. End of story.

As for the media, their response to the crisis was much worse still. Most English-language media, as far as I could tell, failed to evaluate and criticize objectively the government’s action and fell totally into line with the complacency of the Trudeau Liberals and the Mulcair NDP. Furthermore, the media undertook a campaign of denigration of supporters of a ban on the niqab, accusing them of intolerance and even racism (since when is Islam a “race”?), painting them all with the same brush as the Conservative government. This campaign was directed not only against the government party but also against anyone who did not tow the line that wearing the niqab anywhere and everywhere is an inalienable “right.”

The campaign became so intense that we can legitimately qualify it as hate propaganda against secularists and against anyone who holds that religion has no place in state institutions. Instead of championing the voices of Muslims or ex-Muslims who understand why the niqab must not be allowed to become commonplace, the media have given priority to those who play the victim—often hidjab-wearing women—and sympathize with the radicals. The example of three recent articles (See “Three Examples of Inflammatory Nonsense in the Media” at the end of this blog) is sufficient to establish this point. One author even made the utterly surreal claim that the niqab ban is like the residential school system where First Nations children were mistreated.

Returning to the hypothetical example of the Christian prayer for a moment, it is as if anyone who opposed the prayer were accused of “racism” against Christians, whatever that might mean. Christianity is a “race”? Totally ludicrous.

This is obviously NOT the way to reassure the Canadian population. Because of this overwhelming attitude of hostility towards taking any reasonable measure to resolve the niqab issue, the anxiety among the population is not only left to fester, indeed it has been actively inflamed. The Canadian citizenry, especially in Quebec where secularism is more solidly supported, is understandably very upset about this situation, they are sick and tired of being insulted and vilified for their eminently reasonable anxiety about radical Islamists, and they are taking creative measures—such as wearing bizarre face-coverings at advance polling stations—in order to protest and express their outrage.

In summary, both the two opposition parties and the media have failed miserably to do their duty. Instead, they have made a difficult situation even worse, and have increased the danger that acts of hateful violence may occur.

Recently the Conservative government indicated that, if re-elected, it will consider legislation to require removal of any face-covering when working as a public servant or receiving public services as a citizen. This is obviously a good idea, especially for employees on the job. It would be unacceptable for a public servant to hide his or her face, especially behind a symbol of a religious sect. But why is the government proposing this now, at the very last minute of an election campaign, when they could have done so years ago? The media, rather than ask this necessary question, have instead reacted with ever more specious accusations of persecution of Muslims.

Have we gone down a rabbit-hole and entered some crazy parallel universe where up is down, in is out, green is pink, and religious privilege is a “right”? Canadians who have been duped by the pro-niqab propaganda of the Liberal Party and the NDP—and the media who malign any reasonable constraint on religious fanatics—need to return to reality.

All federal politicians must do the right thing: reassure the public by taking reasonable measures to stem the tide of fundamentalist influence, including banning face-coverings in official ceremonies and public services, and by banning blatant displays of religious symbols by public servants while on duty.

Three Examples of Inflammatory Nonsense in the Media

  1. Can Stephen Harper stoop any lower on the niqab?, editorial, The Toronto Star, 2015-10-07.
  2. ‘Little Mosque’ creator says niqab ban repeats mistakes of Canada’s past, CBC News, 2015-10-07.
  3. Fifty years in Canada, and now I feel like a second-class citizen, Sheema Khan, The Globe and Mail, 2015-10-07.

Next blog: Secularists Have Nothing to Celebrate

Trudeau & Mulcair Can Easily Resolve the Niqab Issue


This blog is very brief, a short text which I posted earlier today on Facebook.

Sommaire en français J. Trudeau et T. Mulcair pourraient très facilement résoudre la controverse autour du niqab et poser un beau geste non partisan, un geste pour la laïcité contre la division, si chacun annonçait que, une fois élu, il présenterait promptement un projet de loi interdisant de se couvrir le visage durant les cérémonies officielles. Qu’attendent-ils ?

The Trudeau Liberals and the Mulcair NDP could resolve the niqab kerfuffle in a heartbeat, if they had the simple will to do so. All they have to do is announce that, if elected, they will promptly introduce new legislation to ban face-coverings in official ceremonies. This would immediately have the following effects:

  • Reassure the population that federal politicians are taking some action to stop the encroachment of Islamist extremism in Canada, thus greatly reducing the danger of any anti-Muslim sentiment.
  • Destroy any attempt by the Harper Conservatives to exploit the niqab issue for partisan electoral ends.
  • Take many votes away from the Conservatives, i.e. the votes the Conservatives gained because of this one issue, given that the majority of Canadians favour a ban on face-coverings, thus increasing the chances of Harper being defeated.
  • Show that all three major federal parties can act in a non-partisan manner for the greater good.
  • AND THEY WOULD BE DOING THE RIGHT THING, by taking a principled stand for secularism and against religious fanaticism and religious privilege.

So what are Trudeau and Mulcair waiting for?

Next blog: How to Reassure a Concerned Citizenry … and how NOT to

The Myth of Religious Obligations


There is no such thing as a religious “obligation” because religious belief is not an innate characteristic.

Sommaire en français Les soi-disant « obligations » religieuses n’existent pas, sauf dans le cas où la personne est la cible de coercition, c’est-à-dire victime d’abus. Mais en l’absence de coercition, le comportement religieux d’une personne (comme le port d’un signe par exemple) relève toujours de son choix personnel. Plusieurs croyants, dans le but d’obtenir un privilège ou un accommodement, veulent nous faire croire que leur pratique religieuse serait une « obligation », c’est-à-dire quelque chose d’inné, d’intime et d’immuable. Mais c’est un leurre, car c’est toujours un choix, le résultat d’avoir choisi d’adhérer à une tendance religieuse qui impose ce comportement. Cette prétention est une tentative d’élever la croyance au niveau d’un attribut inné comme la race ou l’orientation sexuelle. Nous ne devons pas, comme les multiculturalistes, nous laisser duper. Par une stratégie inverse, les homophobes religieux essaient de délégitimer les droits des gais en rabaissant l’homosexualité au niveau d’un simple choix. Comble de l’ironie, c’est la croyance qui n’est qu’un choix, tandis que l’orientation sexuelle est plutôt innée. Donc, le port d’un symbole religieux — qui a généralement une signification politique aussi — comme le voile islamiste (un symbole de misogynie et d’islamofascisme), ou le crucifix chrétien (aussi un symbole de fascisme), ou le turban sikh ne mérite pas davantage de déférence que tout autre choix vestimentaire ou toute question de mode. À lire aussi : Blogue LPA 015 : Obligations et choix

As explained in a previous article (AFT Blog #15: Obligations and Choices), there is no such thing as a religious “obligation,” except, of course, an obligation resulting from external coercion. To be precise, a person who participates in religious activities, or who has specific behaviours based on religious belief, or who wears religious symbols, is in one of two possible situations:

  1. the person freely chooses his or her religious behaviour; or
  2. the person is coerced into that behaviour.

In the second case, the person is a victim of abuse, and it is the secular state’s duty to help end that abuse, especially if the person involved is a minor. In the first case, where there is no coercion, the person always has a choice, because they can choose whether or not to respect the “obligations” of the religious tradition which they have chosen to adopt.

There are Muslims who drink alcohol, just as there are Catholics who have sexual relations whose goal is not procreation, even though they are thus disobeying core “obligations” of their respective religion. Countless other examples could be given. Among Muslims, the “obligation” for women to wear the veil is not even a core tenet, being promoted only by fundamentalist and Islamist tendencies. So a woman who freely chooses to wear the veil has chosen to follow a particular form of Islam, whether or not she is fully aware of the significance of her choice.


Sometimes, in order to get special treatment or privileges — or, in more familiar language, in order to obtain a “reasonable” accommodation — the religious believer will insist on the so-called “obligatory” nature of their religious practice or dress, as if they had no choice, as if their religious belief were something immutable, non-negotiable, as if their religion were like race or sexual orientation or some other innate characteristic. Some people — in particular, multiculturalists — will foolishly acquiesce without further reflection, saying “Oh, of course, you have an obligation to do that, no further questions asked.” That is why I say that multiculturalism should really be called ethnoreligious determinism because it treats religion as innate and unquestionable.

But secularists will say something like, “No, that is your personal choice, you may do it on your own time, but please refrain during working hours, especially if you work in the public service.” If the person in question is a Muslim, Islamists will then scream “Racists! How dare you impede their religious ‘freedom’!” where the word ‘freedom’ really means privilege (and no-one knows what ‘race’ they are referring to, but, no need, slander need not be precise). And the multiculturalists will cheer the Islamists along, enabling them, and working against secularism just as they did during the debate over the Quebec Charter of Secularism.


Consider for example the strategy of Christian fundamentalist homophobes in their efforts to de-legitimize gay rights. They oppose gay rights for religious reasons of course, because their bible and their entire worldview has a distorted view of gender and sexuality. The book of Leviticus in particular condemns homosexual behaviour. But in the arguments which Christian homophobes present to others who may not care what the bible says, they insist on the idea that homosexuality is just a personal choice and not an innate characteristic. Of course this is contradicted by both research and by the personal experience of countless people which indicate that sexual orientation must be largely innate and, among men at least, practically immutable. Given the intensity of social disapproval of homosexuality, especially in many more traditional societies (including our own not so long ago), it seems absurd that anyone would “choose” to be gay.

The irony is that even if these Christian fundamentalists were right and sexual orientation could be readily changed, it would not justify legal repression or discrimination against gays and lesbians based on Christian dogma because the bible would still be irrelevant. Nevertheless, if sexual orientation really were a matter of choice, that would tend to weaken the case for gay rights because it would move gayness from the status of an innate or static characteristic such as race or physical attributes or other hereditary factors into the realm of more fluid matters of choice such as fashion or tradition.

Now, returning to the issue of religious choices and obligations, we can readily understand what the religious are trying to do when they insist on the “obligatory” nature of their behaviour or dress. By pretending that such choices are not choices but rather compulsory, they are attempting to augment the legitimacy of those choices by elevating them to the status of something innate and immutable such as race. And if anyone dares to question that strategy, they will quite likely be met with accusations of “racism” as a further attempt to assert the innateness of religious behaviour.

We must not be duped. Religious belief is not innate. It may be difficult to change — after all, childhood indoctrination, which is the main vector for spreading belief, is very effective and tenacious — but it is not immutable. It can and does change.

It is indeed ironic, and rather amusing I think, that religious bigots attempt to deny gay rights by claiming that homosexuality is low on the innateness scale, when in reality it is religious belief which is “inferior” to sexual orientation on that scale!

So we must not be duped, and we must learn to say, “NO! Your religion is not some innate, intimate part of you that must be accommodated by others!” Religious practices are NOT on a par with, for example, the health needs of a handicapped person. They need not be accommodated. We must not fall into the multiculturalist trap of acquiescing to every whim (a.k.a. “obligation”) of the religious.

Bad Fashion Choices

The above considerations are very important when deciding how to deal with the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in state institutions. Religious symbols generally have a political meaning. The crucifix, for example, is usually a symbol of loyalty to some Christian church, often (but not necessarily) the Roman Catholic, or of fidelity to Christian values. Even if the crucifix has little meaning in the mind of the person wearing it, it will be perceived by others as significant.

The Islamist veil is considerably larger than most crucifixes worn as adornments, and its political significance is more obvious, especially if the veil covers the face completely as do the niqab and the burqa. So what does the Islamist veil mean? At least two things:

  • It is a symbol of female purity. It reflects the mentality that women are responsible for men’s sexuality. It indicates that women, especially Muslim women, who do NOT wear the veil are impure, and impure women, if sexually assaulted or raped, probably deserve what they get.
  • The veil is a flag of Islamofascism. Although not the only flag, it is the flag of choice for proselytizing non-Muslim societies because the women wearing the veil are themselves primary victims of the Islamist ideology whose symbol they wear. (In this context I am using the word “proselytizing” to refer not to the conversion of individuals, but rather to the gradual conversion of spaces and societies.) In that way, criticism of the veil can often be neutralized by playing on sympathy for the victims and hypocritically accusing critics of oppressing the wearers of the veil, when in reality it is the Islamists who are oppressing them. This is a rather clever strategy on their part.

The Islamist veil is loaded with very negative meaning — especially if worn by teachers or child-care workers who spend extended periods of time with children. It transmits a set of values incompatible with modern human rights and freedoms. Again, the woman wearing the veil may or may not herself be fully aware of the message she is transmitting.

To summarize, the Islamist veil is a symbol of misogyny and fascism. The Christian crucifix is also a symbol of fascism; after all, the Roman Catholic Church has generally been a faithful ally of fascist regimes in Europe and Latin America. That is why the crucifix must be removed from the wall of the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Thus I repeat: We must not fall into the trap of accepting the myth that wearing a crucifix, veil or turban, etc., is somehow “obligatory” because it is supposedly the reflection of some innate characteristic of the bearer. On the contrary, it deserves no more deference than any other fashion choice. It can be removed.

Next blog: “Secularism Versus the Multicultis