Please Remove Your MAGA Hat at Work

Same rule for crucifixes, hijabs, kippahs, turbans, niqabs, burqas, etc.

2019-12-29

Religious symbols are no more sacred than MAGA hats worn by Trump supporters.

Sommaire en français Les signes religieux ne sont pas plus sacrés que les casquettes MAGA portées par les partisans de Donald Trump.

What would you think of a teacher who wore a Trump MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) hat throughout the day while teaching his or her class? I know what I would say: Take that thing off while you are at work. You can wear it all you want off the job. I would say the same thing to a person wearing a Christian crucifix, a Sikh turban, a Jewish kippah, an Islamic veil, etc. — i.e. NOT on the job.

A few political and religious symbols Click to enlarge
A few political and religious symbols

Quebec already has a law (Public Service Act, on the books since 1983) which bans civil servants from displaying partisan political opinions while on the job. The new Bill 21 simply extends that to religious symbols, which are, of course, often very political. A religious symbol is no more sacred than a MAGA hat. Do what you want off the job. But on the job — especially if you work for the State, and especially if you are in a position of authority — you should take it off, in order to be fair to users of public services and students in schools.

The crucifix is the MAGA hat of Christianity.

The kippah is the MAGA hat of Judaism.

The turban is the MAGA hat of Sikhism.

The hijab is the MAGA hat of Islam.

The niqab and burqa are the MAGA hats of Islamism.


Next blog: 5e anniversaire de l’attentat contre Charlie Hebdo

The US Constitution is Not Secular

2018-04-05

In this blog I explain that a complete definition of secularism must include separation between State and religions.

Sommaire en français J’explique dans ce blogue qu’une définition complète de la laïcité doit forcément inclure le principe de séparation entre l’État et les religions.

Just a quick reminder to Americans, and many others, who seem to think that the US Constitution is a model of secularism. You are mistaken. It asserts religious neutrality, which is only one element of secularism. The First Amendment of the US Constitution, which established that

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

is undoubtedly better than anything in Canadian federal legislation (the worst being the mention of the “supremacy of God” in the Canadian Constitution of 1982), but it does not implement secularism. As Shadia B. Drury pointed out in Free Inquiry, vol 32, #3:

“The establishment clause is not an endorsement of secularism but of nonsectarianism.”

What Drury calls nonsectarianism, I would call religious neutrality. It means that the state does not favour one religion over others; that there is no state religion. Very good so far. But secularism is much more than that. Secularism starts with religious neutrality and adds separation between religion and state, i.e. rejecting all religious interference in its affairs and legislation. That is, religion’s influence in politics and education is nonexistent. Secularism is universalist: the secular state refuses to recognize religions and treats all citizens equally, regardless of religious affiliation. It does not give religions any privileges and it does not accommodate religious practice.

Here is a good definition of secularism:

State secularism is based on the following principles:

  1. the separation between State and religions;
  2. the religious neutrality of the State;
  3. the equality of all citizens; and
  4. freedom of conscience.

The above definition is adapted from several sources: the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (Quebec, 2008), secular activist Daniel Baril, British humanist Andrew Copson (in his book Secularism) and the text of Quebec’s Draft Bill 21. Given the diversity of these sources, it represents a good consensus. The four sources differ somewhat in order and wording, but they all include principle (1) the separation between State and religions.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution says nothing about religion-State separation. It simply says that Congress cannot establish a State religion (hence, neutrality), nor can it interfere with the free exercise of religion. This means that nothing prevents religions from interfering in the affairs of State and government, as long as all religions are given equal opportunity to do so.

The principle of separation, however, goes much further and is necessary to protect the freedom of conscience of the citizenry. Its purpose is to prevent religious interference in the affairs of State and government. It means, for example, that the physical installations of the State and employees who represent the State may not display religious symbols, because that would expose users of public services and pupils in public schools to passive religious publicity, making them a captive audience.

Those who oppose any ban on religious symbols worn by public servants while on duty are thus opposing secularism. Such opponents often protest that any ban should apply only to physical installations (such as the walls of State institutions) and not to persons employed by the State, but they never give any cogent reason for accepting the former ban but not the latter.

Allowing public servants to wear religious (or political) symbols while working as representatives of the State means implicitly giving priority to the freedom of expression of employees over the freedom of conscience of the users of services, which is completely unjustified. Allowing the wearing of such symbols constitutes a religious privilege granted unfairly to those believers whose practice involves ostentatious display. It also constitutes discrimination against atheists, other non-believers and anyone else, including most believers, who do not adopt such exhibitionistic practices.

As for the users of public services, they are not representatives of the State and a ban on them wearing religious symbols would be unjustified. (However, face-coverings may be banned for other reasons, such as security, identification or communication, or because some face-coverings constitute a form of servitude of part of the population.)

The duty of public servants is to serve the users of public services, just as the duty of public school teachers is to educate their pupils. That is the reason for their employment. If there is any conflict between the freedoms of employees and the freedoms of users, clearly the latter should have priority. Furthermore, allowing religious symbols worn by representatives of the State amounts to religious interference in State institutions and is incompatible with secularism.


Next blog: The American Model of “Secularism” is 18th Century Pre-secularism

Tobacco, Politics and Religion

2019-04-03

I draw an analogy among three types of restrictions: bans on tobacco use in some places, legislation restricting political displays in some contexts and Draft Bill 21 which puts some restrictions on religious symbols.

Sommaire en français Dans ce blogue je compare trois types de restrictions: les interdictions de fumer dans certains endroits, la législation limitant l’expression d’opinions politiques dans certains contextes et le Projet de loi 21 qui met certaines restrictions sur le port de signes religieux.

In many jurisdictions, the use of tobacco products is banned in certain places, for example, some workplaces. This means that smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products is forbidden there. It does not mean that people who smoke regularly may not enter there; they simply have to refrain from smoking in contexts where it is banned. This ban is about behaviour, not people. Certain behaviour—i.e. smoking—is banned, not certain people.

If a person defies the ban, would we blame the government or organization that imposed the ban? I doubt it. We would blame the person. The individual is responsible for his or her behaviour. If the ban is justified—by considerations of public health for example, and applies equally to all—then we must support it.


In Quebec, article 10 of the Loi sur la fonction publique (in English: Public Service Act) stipulates that:

10. A public servant shall be politically neutral in performing his duties.

This implies that the public servant must not display partisan political symbols or express partisan political opinions in the exercise of his or her duties. (In fact, the restriction is even stronger than that: see article 11 which imposes some duty of discretion even outside the workplace.) Does this mean that people who often wear such symbols, or who have political opinions, or certain political opinions, are excluded from employment in the public service? Of course not. It simply means that they must refrain from displaying or expressing those opinions while on the job. This restriction is about behaviour, not people. Article 12 of the same law states:

12. Nothing in this Act prohibits a public servant from being a member of a political party, attending a political meeting or making, in accordance with the law, a contribution to a political party or a local association of a political party or to a candidate in an election.

If a public servant on the job defies this rule by, for example, wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Vote PQ” or “Andrew Sheer for PM” then would we blame the lawmakers for adopting such legislation? I doubt it. The law is reasonable and applies to everyone. The individual is responsible for his or her behaviour.


Draft Bill 21, proposed by the current CAQ government of Quebec (March 2019) would ban the wearing of religious symbols by civil servants in positions of authority. This is very similar to the ban on political displays, but considerably weaker because it does not apply to all civil servants and it has no effect outside the workplace. Religious symbols are highly partisan and often political in their implications. It is reasonable to put restrictions on their display by public servants, similar to current restrictions on political expression. The ban does not exclude anyone from public service based on their religious beliefs or affiliation. It applies to all religions. The ban on religious symbols is about behaviour, not people.

And yet, anti-secularists are up in arms about Draft Bill 21, accusing the CAQ of all sorts of horrible intentions. Why is this? The answer is obvious. Religions have traditionally been granted enormous privileges in many societies, including Canada at all levels of government, and people are so used to those privileges that they are not even aware of them. They take them for granted. And the religious themselves, when their privileges are challenged, arrogantly claim that their “rights” are under attack. Bullshit. Freedom of religion must not have priority over all other freedoms. Members of the public who go to government offices for various services, as well as children who attend public schools, have a right to services and education which do not involve partisan symbols shoved in their faces by the employee or teacher who provides the service.

If an individual violates the law, that individual is responsible for his or her behaviour. The State has no obligation to accommodate the religious beliefs or practises of public servants while they are on the job. The State has a duty to provide services in a politically and religiously neutral manner. The State employee has a duty to avoid partisan political or religious displays while on the job. What employees do off the job is their own business.

The proposed Bill 21 is simply a reasonable extension, and a rather modest and weak extension at that, of the existing Public Service Act. It does not go far enough—it should apply to all civil servants—but it is a good step in the right direction.


Next blog: The CAQ’s Secularism Bill is a Positive Step Forward

Open Letter to TheConversation: An Organ of Anti-Quebec Propaganda

2018-12-29

In this blog I review a series of very dubious articles which appeared over the last year or so on the website TheConversation, all of which reveal a pronounced anti-Quebec prejudice.

Sommaire en français Dans ce blogue je passe en revue une série de textes très douteux, parus depuis un peu plus d’un an sur le site web TheConversation, qui révèlent tous un fort préjugé anti-Québéc.

Dear Editor of TheConversation,

When I first read the article “Québec’s fashion police: A century of telling women what not to wear” by Donica Belisle in TheConversation, I thought it was probably the worst article I had ever read. The article dishonestly attempts to equate two actions which are diametrically opposed: Catholic obscurantism in the past with Quebec’s current efforts to reduce the influence of religious obscurantism on public institutions. Belisle displays total ignorance of the secularism issue which is at the heart of this whole controversy. Furthermore, she denigrates Quebec society by painting it with the brush of the Catholic far-right, while ignoring the Islamist far-right which is far more active in Quebec.

My colleague Michel Lincourt has written to TheConversation in order to explain just how shoddy Donica Belisle’s article is. I certainly agree with his criticism. But I consider that he was in fact a little too kind. Firstly, he used the expression “Quebec bashing” to describe Belisle’s article, whereas in my opinion a stronger term, such as “anti-Quebec propaganda” or “anti-Québécois racism” for example, might be more appropriate. Secondly, Michel concentrates on one single article and thus perhaps did not notice a disturbing pattern of which TheConversation is guilty.

For my part, I did a search for “Quebec” on your website and discovered that Belisle’s article is not the worst. My search turned up a list of six other articles, all published within the last 15 months, which range in quality from very bad to atrocious. They all have much in common with Belisle’s writing. I list them here, with a brief summary of each.

  1. Quebec’s niqab ban uses women’s bodies to bolster right-wing extremism, Yasmin Jiwani, 2017-10-23.
    This screed condemns the previous Québec government’s Bill 62 while completely misunderstanding its import. A ban on both face-coverings in public services and religious symbols worn by public servants would be an excellent idea, but the Bill 62 did NOT do that. It did not enact religious neutrality—and even less secularism. It simply pretended to ban face-coverings while legislating exceptions which made the ban extremely weak. The purpose was not “to bolster right-wing extremism” as Jiwani claims in her paranoid title. The Bill was a cynical attempt by the Quebec Liberal Party to pretend to satisfy the Québécois’ overwhelming desire for secularism while doing practically nothing. But even such an impotent law was too much for some, such as Jiwani, who raves about the “ultra-right” in Quebec. The only far-right in Québec is constituted by those who oppose secularism by dishonestly and grossly misrepresenting it.
  2. The link between Quebec’s niqab law and its sovereignty quest, Efe Peker, 2017-10-29.
    The title’s obvious purpose is to frighten the reader by brandishing the boogeyman of “sovereignty.” Peker then starts by reassuring the reader that he is not “old-stock Quebecois” because, apparently, the opinion of such a person cannot be trusted. That sounds like racism to me. Peker employs the tendentious term “Catho-laïcité” instead of secularism or laïcité, thus revealing his prejudices once again. Enormous progress has been made in removing the Catholic symbols which were ubiquitous in Quebec only decades ago. The Charter of Secularism proposed in 2013-2014, an excellent initiative which Peker dismisses as a “mess,” would have applied to all religions, but Peker sees only religious discrimination.
  3. Islamophobia in Québec: An ideology rooted in 20th century imperialism, Frederick Burrill, 2017-12-10.
    This article immediately loses all credibility because of its use of the loaded and unacceptable expression “Islamophobia.” To fear Islam (or any other religion) is not a phobia, rather it is simply due diligence. Burrill refers to the journalist and secularist Janette Bertrand as “feminist” where the quotes around the word clearly indicate his contempt for the former television personality, much loved by Québécois. Finally, Burrill’s attempt to denigrate contemporary Quebec secularism by rooting it in Catholic missionary propaganda of the early 20th century is beyond ridiculous.
  4. The hypocrisy of Québec’s move to ban religious dress, Richard Moon, 2018-10-22.
    Moon repeats a theme we have already heard countless times from numerous anti-secularists: the observation that keeping the crucifix in the National Assembly is “hypocrisy.” But like all of them, he fails to recognize that removing the crucifix without banning religious symbols worn by public servants would also be hypocritical. The only correct solution is to do both: both government installations and public servants on duty must be free of obvious religious symbols. Moon fails to mention that secularist organizations in Quebec overwhelmingly supported both the Charter of Secularism in 2013-2014 and CAQ’s recent proposals while at the same time calling for removal of that crucifix.
  5. Québec’s push to ban the hijab is ‘sexularism’, Yasmin Jiwani, 2018-11-05.
    The very title of this article is insane. Jiwani denigrates CAQ for being “exclusionary” and throws in some fatuity about “the margins of race, religion and gender,” only one of which—religion—is relevant to the issue. Two things are clear however: (1) the author deliberately conflates race and religion, so that she can then throw false accusations of racism at secularists; and (2) she presents the wearing of the Islamist veil as a woman’s right of choice. Both are unacceptable deceptions practised regularly by Islamist ideologues. The latter is an example of their inversion strategy, i.e. presenting a sexist constraint (the veil) as a “right,” thus rebranding misogyny as pseudo-feminism.
  6. Notwithstanding clause or not, Québec must accommodate its employees, Sébastien Parent, 2018-12-05.
    Parent fails to distinguish between religious neutrality and secularism, as if they were synonyms. The former is a weak and incomplete subset of the latter, lacking the necessary separation between religions and state which is at the core of secularism. Parent repeatedly uses the misleading expression “reasonable accommodation” when in fact he is talking about religious accomodation. The former is a euphemism whose true meaning is the latter. The fallacious word “reasonable” distracts from the fact that accommodating religions is never acceptable. Making exceptions to laws in order to accommodate religious practices is to grant unacceptable privileges to religions. The fact that courts sometimes impose such accommodations simply shows that legislation needs to changed. In the meantime, the Quebec government will wisely use the notwithstanding clause to work around this problem.

Beyond the particularities of each of these seven articles, there are common threads running through the series:

  • A complete and wilful misunderstanding of secularism and a failure even to cover the relevant issues.
  • False accusations of discrimination against Muslims. The observation that bans on religious symbols will appear to target Muslims is a result of the fact that (a) Islamists claim to speak for all Muslims in general (they do not) while (b) these same Islamists promote the wearing of the misogynist veil in order to gain political influence. (Thanks largely to incompetent journalists, the strategy is working.)
  • An adulteration and inversion of feminism, as if the veil were a feminist choice, when in reality it is one of the worst expressions of misogyny ever invented.
  • Conflation of race (innate, immutable characteristics of the individual) with religion (a choice which can change).

Even more serious is what is lacking from this series of articles:

  • No attempt to understand republicanism and universalism and how they inform and support secularism.
  • No attempt to present the very solid arguments in favour of bans on religious symbols and face-coverings in public services, let alone even begin to refute them.
  • No attempt to present the views of secular, modern Muslims who support religious symbol bans.
  • No mention of the fact that Quebec already bans political symbols worn by public servants on duty. Extending this to religious symbols is an eminently reasonable and fair measure to take.
  • No acknowledgement whatsoever of the problematic nature of the expression “Islamophobia.”
  • No consideration of multiculturalism and the many relevant criticisms of that ideology which encourages isolation of communities.
  • No criticism whatsoever of the problems with Islam and Islamism. (Example: The extremely damaging taboo against apostasy.) Apparently only Christian—and preferably Catholic—obscurantism may be mentioned, let alone criticized.
  • Failure to recognize that Québécois are more advanced on the issue of secularism than Canadians outside Quebec and, especially, far more progressive that hostile media such as TheConversation.

I notice that your website’s motto is “Academic rigour, journalistic flair.” What a bad joke. Your series of articles about Quebec and secularism is a cesspool of journalistic incompetence, wilful ignorance and contempt for the Québécois, coupled with a disturbing tendency to repeat some of the classic elements of Islamist propaganda.


Next blog: Fourth Anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo Massacre

Banning Religious Symbols: When & Where?

2018-06-03

With the recent decision of the Danish government, the question of bans on religious symbols and face-coverings is once again in the news. In this blog I display a table indicating the circumstances in which, in my opinion, such bans are justified.

Sommaire en français Vu la récente décision du gouvernement danois, la question des interdictions des signes religieux et des couvre-visage revient dans l’actualité. Dans le présent blogue, j’affiche un tableau où j’indique les circumstances dans lesquelles de telles prohibitions seraient, à mon avis, justifiées.

Just days ago (2018-05-31) the government of Denmark banned face-coverings in public. The ban will go into effect on August 1st. I salute the courage of the Danish government. This is a strong and wide-sweeping measure, as it applies in public spaces, not just in public services. However, some constraints on these ambulatory prisons for women must be implemented. They should at least be banned in public services (as Quebec’s Bill 62 claims to do, but in fact fails because of easy exemptions).

The Danish approach is certainly preferable to the complacency and the crass illogic of the Canadian government which not only permits religious symbols everywhere, even in the RCMP, before the courts and in state ceremonies, but in addition even celebrates them!

The ban does not violate freedom of religion. It does not prevent anyone from practising their religion. On the contrary, it prevents one form of proselytism by fanatics with a political agenda. It does not matter whether the person wearing such face-covering does so willingly or is forced by others to do so; in the case of the niqab, either way it an expression of politico-religious fanaticism.

As regards the general question of the circumstances in which bans should or should not be applied, the table below represents my personal opinion. Reasonable people may disagree on the details. However, it is certainly not reasonable to oppose all bans on face-coverings or religious symbols, in any and all circumstances. To allow them everywhere is literally insane. Would you trust a cop wearing a large crucifix on his/her chest or wearing a niqab?

On such bans in general, see: Restrictions on Face-Coverings & Religious Symbols.

Circumstance Ostentatious Religious (and Political) Symbols in General Partial face-coverings, e.g. chador* Face-coverings (which may or may not be religious symbols)
Public servants having coercive power (police, judges, prison guards), while on duty Ban Ban Ban
Public servants in general, while on duty Ban Ban Ban
Users of public services No ban No ban Ban
Private individuals circulating in public No ban No ban Maybe ban
Driver of motor vehicle Ban if vision is compromised Ban Ban

* Note: I have put the chador (tchador in French) into a category by itself because it is more restrictive than the hijab (leaving less of the face visible) while being less restrictive than the niqab or burqa. The chador is, so to speak, the Iranian adaptation of the niqab or burqa.


Next blog: In Praise of Cultural Appropriation

Religious Symbols and the Montreal Police

Cultural relativists are on the warpath again.

2018-04-13

Once again, the airheads who promote cultural relativism and religious privilege are on the warpath, trying to impose religious symbols in public services, this time in the Montreal police force.

Sommaire en français Encore une fois, les écervelés du relativisme culturel et du privilège religieux partent en guerre dans le but d’imposer des symboles religieux dans les services publics, cette fois-ci dans la police de Montréal.

Once again, conformism and fashionable nonsense are winning out over common sense. Some doofus on Montreal City Council, someone obviously with more time than brains, came up with the brilliant idea of having the Montreal Police force allow officers to wear religious symbols such as Islamic hijabs and Sikh turbans while on duty. And a lot of other doofuses (doofi?) — the usual suspects, including Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Couillard and Mayor Plante — are jumping on the bandwagon, either agreeing completely or at least declaring their openness to the idea.

To consider this idea, and to keep it simple, let us set aside most of the issues which such an idea raises. Forget for now the fact that the hijab is a flag of an international extreme right-wing political movement, as well as a symbol of that movement’s abysmal misogyny, a symbol of rape culture, and a marker identifying the woman wearing it as “taken,” i.e. as the property of her family and religious community.

Let us also set aside the fact that only the most pious, fundamentalist or even extremist Sikh men would bother to wear the turban which is a marker indicating that their religion is more important to them than anything else in their lifes.

Let us also set aside the fact that such unnecessary religious attire can be a very real impediment to a police officer’s work, interfering with or completely preventing the wearing of a protective helmet or a gas mask, and, in the case of the hijab compromising the person’s peripheral vision.

Finally, let us set aside the very real problem of how the police officer’s religious symbol may interfere with their work because of how it is perceived by the public. Police officers wear a uniform for a reason: because it is, well, uniform, that is, in order to present a neutral appearance. Imagine the predicament of a young women who is being seriously harassed by her Muslim father because she refuses to wear the hijab; how will she feel if she calls the police and a hijabi officer shows up? Or imagine the predicament of a man attacked by homophobes who, when the police arrive, finds that one or more officers are wearing symbols associated with a highly homophobic religion. Or consider the plight of a woman beaten by her husband who appeals to the police for help but finds that several officers are wearing symbols of a very misogynistic religion.

Let us leave all that aside and consider one core issue. On what basis can one justify granting such a privilege to the Muslim and Sikh religions? Are we supposed to accept a police officer who wears a giant Christian cross on his/her chest while on duty? How about a Pastfarian who wears a collander or a bowl of spaghetti on his/her head? Or a Raelian who wears only a G-string to symbolize that cult’s sex-positive beliefs? Or a Scientologist who wears a symbol of that religion?

Should we also accept officers wearing swastikas on their uniforms? Ah, but that is a political ideology, not a religion, you protest. Bullshit, all religions are potentially political, and indeed they become highly politicized if and when their symbols are worn by an agent endowed with the coercive power of the state and the mandate to use it. An Islamic hijab, a Sikh turban, a Christian crucifix or any other religious symbol becomes a political symbol (if it was not obviously one already) as soon as it is displayed by an agent of the state while on duty.

The solution is simple. A uniform must be uniform. No modification to the uniform is acceptable unless it responds to a real, objective need, such as body size, sex, handicap, health condition, etc. A person’s religious affiliation is not an acceptable excuse to provide an accommodation because it does not represent any objective need; in other words, there is nothing real to be accommodated.

Anyone who attaches greater importance to their religion than to their duties as a police officer (or in other position as employee of the state), even while on duty, is unfit for the job. All the person has to do is to wear the standard uniform while on duty. When off duty, they can wear whatever they want.

Suggested reading:

  • Religious Symbols in the Police, Jean-Paul Lahaie.
  • Policiers et symboles religieux — une ligne à ne pas franchir (Police and religious symbols—a line which must not be crossed), François Côté, Le Devoir, 2018-04-07. A quote: “Let us be clear: when a citizen chooses to become a police officer, he/she must accept to set aside a portion of his/her individuality during the execution of his/her duties in order to embody the effective and literally armed force of the state, to be neutral in both manner and perception when dealing with the public. For example, the expression of any political affiliation is forbidden—and if the person cannot accept the idea of refraining from displaying his/her partisan ideologies during daily tasks, then the occupation of police officer is simply not appropriate for that person. One can make exactly the same point with respect to religious displays.”
  • Des signes religieux dans la police ? Non ! (Religious symbols in the police? No!), Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay, Journal de Montrèal, 2018-04-03. A quote: “Because it is the antithesis of racism, secularism necessarily assumes that all citizens are capable of adapting to common rules which have been democratically established, in this case the absence of religious expression when one works for the state, during, and only during working hours. This has nothing to do with any sort of discomfort which might be caused by the sight of religious symbols one might see worn in the street. It is important to understand the distinction between private life and professional duties. The hijab worn by a woman walking down the street is none of our business. However, the situation is completely different for a symbol worn by a representative of a public institution, because public institutions have no religion. The dress requirement is all the more important in the case of employees who exercise coercive power.”
  • Oui pour une police neutre et non, mille fois non, Madame Plante, pour une milice communautaire (YES to a neutral police force; but NO, a thousand times NO, Madame mayor, to a community militia), Ali Kaidi, Kabyle Universel, 2018-04-05. A quote: “This multiculturalist vision of the state does not protect religious minorities. On the contrary, it makes them second-class citizens. It is not a sign of openness towards citizens considered to be members of minorities; rather it is a sign of closed-mindedness and systemic exclusion which confines the citizen to his/her ethnic, cultural or religious group instead of considering him/her as a citizen with rights and duties similar to those of other citizens. True openness can come only from the neutrality of citizen representation and not from the promotion or religious communitarianism.”

Next blog: Status of Women Canada Endorses Political Islam

The Myth of Religious Obligations

2015-07-03

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.

Accommodation

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.

Innateness

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