Racialism versus Secularism

Racialising Religious Affiliation to Oppose Secularism

2020-07-21

A few excepts from my long article The Battle Raging Between Racialism and Secularism published recently in Topical Magazine. The article criticizes the tendency of today’s so-called “antiracist” activists towards racialism and towards racialising religious affiliation as an anti-secularism strategy. The text presents several definitions in order to set the terms of the debate, followed by numerous examples of the racialisation of religious affiliation in France, in the United States and finally in Canada, with particular attention to the opponents of Quebec Bill 21.

Sommaire en français Quelques extraits de mon article, assez long, intitulé The Battle Raging Between Racialism and Secularism (La bataille farouche entre le racialisme et la laïcité) paru récemment dans la revue en ligne Topical Magazine. Il s’agit d’une critique de la tendance, chez les militants soi-disant « antiracistes » actuels, à verser dans le racialisme et à racialiser l’appartenance religieuse afin de lutter contre la laïcité. Le texte présente plusieurs définitions afin de préciser les termes du débat, suivies de nombreux exemples de la racialisation de l’appartenance religieuse en France, aux États-Unis et finalement au Canada, en particulier chez les adversaires de la Loi 21 québécoise.

…ethnicity, like race, refers principally to a person’s innate, immutable characteristics. Religion, on the other hand, is an ideology, a collection of ideas, beliefs and practices. Ethnicity is a personal identity, whereas religion is an opinion and an option. The distinction is crucial. To change one’s “race” is impossible. To change one’s religion may be easy or difficult, depending on one’s degree of indoctrination, but it is certainly not impossible. It may be as uncomplicated as changing one’s mind.

If religious affiliation is elevated to the status of ethnicity, then it becomes viewed as practically unchangeable, fixed for the person’s lifetime, making the individual a prisoner of the religion in which he or she was born and raised. Conflating race or ethnicity with religion implies the negation of freedom of conscience. It also opens the door to social—or even legal—censorship of criticism of religion, because if a religion is a “race” then is not criticising religion a form of “racism”?

Religious apologists tend to love the idea of conflating “race” or ethnicity and religion, because such conflation is a perfect tool for deflecting criticism of their religion. However, they need to think seriously about the implications. If we accept seriously the idea that anti-religious sentiment is indeed a form of “racism” then the three Abrahamic monotheisms—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—become, for this very reason, explicitly and unequivocally racist. Judaism asserts that the Jewish people is chosen by Jehovah and tough luck for everyone else. Christianity holds that those who fail to accept Christ are doomed to an eternity of punishment in hell. As for Islam, its holy book the Quran repeatedly expresses violent hostility towards non-Muslims and, in some contexts, enjoins Muslims to kill them. Adherents of these three religions would do well to reflect on this before embracing the religion-equals-race fraud.

It is important to preserve the biological meaning of the word “race” in order to prevent the apologists of certain ideologies from hijacking the concept for their own dubious purposes.

The racialisation of religious affiliation and the specious accusations of “racism” which it facilitates are hallmarks of racialism and probably the most important and toxic propaganda weapons of the fiercest opponents of secularism. These opponents are currently on the warpath in several countries. Let us consider a few examples.

Bill 21 is eminently sensible and moderate legislation. It is a matter of professional ethics. A representative of the State, while on the job, should not display partisan political or religious symbols. To allow the wearing of such symbols by State employees represents an unwarranted and unacceptable privilege accorded to the ideology which the symbol promotes. Several nations—France and parts of Switzerland, Belgium and Germany—also ban the overt display of religious symbols worn by some or all State employees. Bill 21 also bans face-coverings worn when providing or receiving government services, which is also the case for many European and African countries, some of which are Muslim-majority countries.

…one particularly creative opponent of Bill 21 links the bill to anti-black and anti-indigenous racism and asserts that it could very well lead to genocide… In light of the examples listed above, to say that Bill 21 meets with a hostile reaction is an understatement. The reaction has been hysterical, fanatical and patently insane.

This disinformation was repeated by many mainstream media as if it were fact, thus establishing a false link between an act of violence directed at a particular religious community and an extreme form of racism. Proponents of racialism and their Islamist allies pushed for M-103 as a result. Furthermore, that motion led to the formation of a parliamentary committee whose recommendations would open the door to allowing federal funds destined for anti-racism programmes to be misdirected into defending religious minorities and, through them, the religions themselves.

Racialism and the racialisation of religious affiliation are both profoundly dishonest and a considerable step backwards towards religious obscurantism and tribalism. It amounts to jettisoning freedom of conscience and abandoning universalism by labelling each individual indelibly with an attribute—i.e. religious affiliation—which is no more significant than an opinion, an opinion which not only may change, but which must be allowed to be changeable if we are to respect the individual’s fundamental human rights.

Read the full article.


Next blog: TBA

How the Woke Broke Secularism

2020-05-28

A discussion of how the “woke” mentality of the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left has converged with pro-religious prejudice and ignorance of secularism to create a fanatical opposition to Quebec’s Bill 21, a progressive and landmark piece of legislation which partially implements secularism in that province.

A slightly modified version of this article appears on the British website SP!KED under the title “Now even secularism is ‘Islamophobic’”.

Sommaire en français Une discussion de l’influence, sur le débat autour de la Loi 21 au Québec, de la mentalité dite « woke » (réveillée), soit celle de la pseudo-gauche anti-Lumières. Cette mentalité, en convergence avec des préjugés pro-religieux et une ignorance de la laïcité, a créé une opposition féroce à la Loi 21, une législation progressiste et historique qui réalise partiellement la laïcisation de l’État québécois.

Une version quelque peu modifiée du présent texte paraît sur le site britannique SP!KED sous le titre « Now even secularism is ‘Islamophobic’ ».

The Canadian province of Quebec recently adopted a new secularism law, Bill 21, which bans civil servants in position of authority, including schoolteachers, from wearing religious symbols. It also bans face-coverings for both employees and users. Yet, this progressive legislation has been met with extravagant denunciations from uncomprehending media and politicians outside Quebec, accusing the population of that province of a plethora of dastardly sins: xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, etc.

These accusations sound familiar. They belong to the vocabulary of the woke. I am of course referring to those ostensible leftists sometimes called regressive leftists, although the term anti-Enlightenment pseudo-leftists is more appropriate, militants who adhere to an admixture of dubious ideologies including intersectionality, multiculturalism, postmodernism and various degenerated forms of Marxism.

Two aspects of “wokism” are especially problematic: (1) privileging religious identity; and (2) conflating race and religion, i.e. confusing a person’s innate, intrinsic attributes (such as race) with acquired, extrinsic attributes (such as religion or opinion).

Bill 21’s definition of secularism includes the crucial principle of separation between State and religions, a principle which is poorly understood in the English-speaking world, although many pay lip service to it. For example, if a police officer is allowed to wear a visible crucifix, a kippa or a hijab while on duty, then obviously there is a lack of separation.

Quebec, on the other hand, has chosen the French model of secularism, a model which, unlike the English, includes the separation principle explicitly. The Anglo-Canadian elite is not amused. Nevertheless, polls show that many Canadians outside Quebec support the law, whereas inside Quebec the law enjoys massive support.

By European standards, Bill 21 is moderate, even timid. Religious symbols are banned in public services and/or schools in France and parts of Switzerland, Belgium and Germany. Face-coverings, including the full veil, are banned in many European and African countries, including some Muslim-majority countries. Quebec’s legislation is neither exceptional nor unreasonable.

By requiring that teachers and civil servants in positions of authority remove religious symbols while on the job, Bill 21 protects pupils and users from the passive proselytizing which such symbols operate. It is a matter of professional ethics. Thus, Bill 21 extends and protects rights, i.e. the freedom of conscience of users and students.

The reaction of the woke “left” has been especially, well, reactionary. As Muslims constitute a minority in the countries where intersectional theory originated, they are considered an oppressed group. Intersectionality is notorious for its simplistic concentration on between-group oppression while ignoring within-group oppression. Few reasonable people would disagree with the famous Ernest Renan quote “Muslims are the first victims of Islam.” Yet intersectionalists would have to reject such an idea. If a Muslim is a target of oppression, the cause must inevitably be located outside their religious group. To fit the theory, any problems caused by a person’s Muslim identity must necessarily be caused by anti-Muslim animus and not by other Muslims or by Islam itself.

The wokish habit of conflating race and religion, especially if that religion is Islam, amounts to the negation of freedom of conscience and, with it, secularism. If being Muslim is a “race” then it is innate and immutable. Apostasy is a major sin in Islam and a crime—with severe consequences—in many Muslim-majority countries. The person born into a Muslim family is thus a prisoner of Islam, deprived of freedom of conscience, denied any possibility of apostasy, i.e. freedom to leave the faith to adopt another religion or none. This is precisely what Islamists aim for, and the woke hand it to them on a silver platter. The multiculturalist attitude that a hijabi “must” wear her hijab at all times is the soft version of that taboo against apostasy.

Secularism, on the hand, sends the opposite message: You are not defined by the religion forced upon you as a child.

Several well-funded organizations are challenging the law before the courts, claiming that it discriminates against Muslim women. But many Muslim women do not wear the hijab. To say that a ban on religious symbols discriminates against hijabis is like saying that speed limits discriminate against owners of high-performance vehicles. Those who defy the law are self-selecting, targets by their own design. These laws do not target anyone; rather, they target certain behaviours. If a woman wears the hijab not by choice but because she is pressured to do so by husband, family or community, then a ban in certain contexts will help her to resist that pressure.

Fortunately, the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left failed to stop Bill 21 from being passed into law. But it has done enormous damage, eroding support for secularism, even among many who hypocritically claim to be secularists. We will have to work very hard to repair that damage. In particular, we must assert the importance of freedom of conscience (which includes both freedom of and from religion) for all citizens; reject the conflation of race and religion; and insist that professional ethics take precedence over religious privilege.


Next blog: Le Conseil québécois LGBT refuse mon adhésion

Secularism Betrayed: 2020 Version

English-Canadian pseudo-secularists sink even lower.

2020-05-21

Several ostensibly “secularist” organizations in Canada outside Quebec either oppose Bill 21 or maintain a cowardly silence or neutrality on the subject. The situation has degenerated since the PQ’s Charter of Secularism in 2013-2014.

Sommaire en français Plusieurs organismes prétendument « secularist » au Canada hors Québec s’opposent à la Loi 21, ou gardent un silence ou une neutralité pusillanimes à ce sujet. La situation actuelle est encore pire que celle à l’époque de la Charte de la laïcité du PQ en 2013-2014.

We Canadians have the good fortune to live in a country where one of the founding peoples (if I may use that quaint expression), concentrated mainly in one province, has articulated a very well developed modern tradition of secularism. I say “tradition” because it is well over a century old, yet “modern” because it is very much a product of Enlightenment values, values to which all of us who are concerned with human welfare are greatly attached.

Quebec secularists have worked very hard, for many decades, towards their goal of secularism in that province. The most recent product of their efforts is Bill 21. That legislation is faced with great resistance and hostility. Dishonest journalists and politicians constantly denigrate Quebec, Quebeckers and secularism and misrepresent what Bill 21 does.

Secularists throughout Canada should be enthused by the adoption of Bill 21 and offer their whole-hearted support and solidarity to their Quebecois colleagues.

Secularists throughout Canada should be enthused by the adoption of Bill 21 and offer their whole-hearted support and solidarity to their Quebecois colleagues. And it should not require the intervention of outsiders to teach them to recognize the value of that legislation. But no, they have not done so. Blinded by various dubious ideologies, they have thrown Quebec secularists under the bus, either by keeping a cowardly silence or, worse, by siding with the Islamists and their allies who are determined to kill secularism.

A Deafening Silence

Where are the articles in support of Bill 21 on the websites of the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC), or Humanist Canada (HC), or the Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA) or any other ostenibly secular organization in English Canada? Where are the press releases expressing solidarity with Quebec secularists and their resistance against the tsunami of hostility from the English-language media and from federal, provincial and municipal politicians? The articles analyzing how Canadian multiculturalism is incompatible with secularism and thus should be revised or abandoned? The articles denouncing the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) for its attempt to kill secularism in Quebec? The articles denouncing the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) for its complicity?

Where are the texts explaining how schoolchildren are vulnerable to the influence of teachers who wear religious symbols? The articles explaining that allowing a State employee to wear a religious symbol while on duty is an obvious example of religious privilege?

Where are the texts written by English Canadian humanists and secularists analyzing the antisecularism of Charles Taylor and the clientelism of Justin Trudeau who panders so much to religious minorities? Where are the articles denouncing the American media’s knee-jerk hostility to French secularism? We saw an example of that very recently, with the dishonest article in the Washington Post by James McAuley who deliberately conflates masks worn for health reasons with the full Islamic veil.

If lack of member support prevents the Directors of an organization from making official declarations, that does not prevent them from publishing opinion pieces in support of Bill 21.

Perhaps there are such articles or press releases and I have missed them. If you know of any, please send me the links using the contact form on this site.

Secularism: A Foundational Principle? Or Merely an Option?

Any Canadian organization which claims to be secularist must, to be consistent, support Bill 21. If an organization cannot endorse Bill 21 because of insufficient support by its members, then the Directors should at least have the honesty to admit that secularism is not part of that organization’s foundational principles, but merely an option which it may abandon, depending on where the wind is blowing at the current moment.

…secularism is not part of that organization’s foundational principles, but merely an option which it may abandon, depending on where the wind is blowing…

The fact that an incomplete model of secularism—i.e. the Lockean—is the norm in the RoC is no excuse. The major difference between the Lockean model and full secularism is the absence of the separation principle in the former. And yet, the principle of separation between State and religions is well known in the English language and frequently invoked. All that secularists need to do is to take that principle seriously, to apply it where appropriate, to be consistent with their own declared values. If a State employee, while on duty, wears a visible crucifix, or a hijab, or a kippa, or a Sikh turban, or any other obvious religious symbol, then the separation principle is clearly violated. To deny this is disingenuous and dishonest.

From Cowardice to Hypocrisy

The neutrality with respect to Bill 21 adopted by some organizations is an act of cowardice. But the behaviour of CFIC is far worse. An article included in CFIC’s May 2020 newsletter not only opposes Bill 21 to the point of throwing support behind the antisecularists of the NCCM, but it even shows willingness to lie as a strategy in the court case—by using the falsehood that Bill 21 discriminates against women. It is not clear whether this article represents the organization’s formal position, but if CFIC does not, in the very near future, distance itself from that position by making a public declaration renouncing those who seek the repeal of Bill 21, then we can conclude that CFIC is guilty of abysmal hypocrisy by opposing the very principle, secularism, which it claims to support.

…opposing the very principle, secularism, which it claims to support.

(I do not have time to discuss the BCHA here, but its position is even worse, because it has explicitly rejected secularism by using the word “laïcité” as an excuse to dismiss it.)

We who support Bill 21 are either abandoned or stabbed in the back by our so-called “sister organisations” outside Quebec. The behaviour of Canadian pseudo-secularists has been cowardly, irrational, and extremely hypocritical.

It was not always so: back in 2013-2014, several English-Canadian organizations, including Humanist Canada, supported the PQ’s Charter of Secularism of the time. And, to the best of my knowledge, they did so on their own initiative. But today, things have degenerated. That same HC has adopted a neutral position. See the analysis and discussion in AFT Blog #118.

Apparently no Canadian group outside Quebec will support Bill 21, even though it is weaker than the PQ Charter was with respect to religious symbols. But some tell us to be patient, that we should be diplomatic. No Way. English-Canadian pseudo-secularists have no excuse. They deserve the full brunt of our criticism.


Next blog: How the Woke Broke Secularism

AAI’s John Richards Interviews David Rand about Quebec Bill 21

2020-05-04

John Richards, Publications Director of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) and editor of AAI’s magazine Secular World, interviews David Rand, president of Atheist Freethinkers, about Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21.

Sommaire en français John Richards, directeur des publications de l’Alliance Athée Internationale (AAI) et rédacteur en chef de sa revue Secular World, reçoit David Rand, président de Libres penseurs athées (Atheist Freethinkers), au sujet de la Loi 21 au Québec.

See also:


Next blog: Secularism Betrayed: 2020 Version

Quebec Court of Appeal Ruling, 2019-12-12

Some Quick Notes

2019-12-20 (2020-07-29, link corrected)

On December 12th 2019, the Quebec Court of Appeal delivered its decision in the case Hak, NCCM and CCLA versus Attorney General of Quebec, N° 500-09-028470-193 (local copy), rejecting the application to suspend Bill 21, pending a ruling on the substance of the issue.

Français Ce billet de blogue est disponible aussi en français sous le titre : Décision de la Cour d’appel du Québec, 2019-12-12.


What is at Stake

The plaintiffs requested that the court suspend two sections of Bill 21, An Act respecting the laicity of the State which implements State secularism in Quebec:

  • Section 6 which bans the wearing of religious symbols by some civil servants (as specified in Schedule II of the Bill) while on duty.
  • Section 8 which stipulates that civil services must be provided and received with the face uncovered.

In this case, two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Constitution Act of 1982, are often referenced:

  • Section 28 which guarantees equal rights and freedoms to persons of both sexes.
  • Section 33, the famous “notwithstanding” clause, which allows legislators to adopt laws which operate notwithstanding certain provisions of the Charter.

The Judges and Their Decisions

There were three judges, two of whom rejected the plaintiffs’ request for suspension. Thus, the request is rejected by a majority.

  • Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler, who favoured granting the suspension of section 6 which bans the wearing of religious symbols (but not section 8).
  • Justice Dominique Bélanger, who rejected the appeal.
  • Justice Robert M. Mainville, who rejected the appeal.

Most of the judgement document consists of the grounds for the decision of each of the three judges.

A Few Observations

  • The judges Duval Hesler et Bélanger often assert that Bill 21 discriminates against religious believers! But this is obviously false, because the law applies to all religions.
  • The judges Duval Hesler et Bélanger often assert that Bill 21 discriminates against women. But this is obviously false, because the law applies to all persons, whether women or men. However the judge Mainville is not duped. He gives the example of a man who may not wear a turban on a construction site because wearing a hardhat is compulsory; and yet no-one claims that this discriminates against men.
  • The situation is obvious: Bill 21 does not discriminate against women. On the contrary, it is religions which discriminate against women. This is especially true of Islam, that most misogynistic of all the great religions, or at least its fundamentalist variant known as Islamism or political Islam. By imposing the wearing of the veil as part of its political programme, Islamism generates greater numbers of women who would defy Bill 21.
  • In paragraph [123], Judge Mainville implicitly recognizes this when he writes that the plaintiffs have abandoned the debate about religious symbols and now limit the debate about section 28 to the Islamic veil and the full veil. Thus, it is not Bill 21 which targets Muslim women. Rather, the plaintiffs themselves (and behind them, Islamism) are targetting Muslim women.
  • Why is it that Chief Justice Duval Hesler claims that Bill 21 discriminates against women, when it is obvious that it does not? Remember that this judge has shown herself to be prejudiced in favour of the ideology of multiculturalism. In fact, several complaints against her have been submitted to the Canadian Judicial Council. For example, the Chief Justice suggested, during one of the court sessions, that Bill 21 is a response to « visual allergies » that some people have towards religious symbols. This statement is very similar to the typical arguments of those who oppose any and all bans on religious symbols. They wantonly and completely ignore the argument that such bans are necessary to protect the freedom of conscience of users of public services. Instead, they claim that supporters of such bans are just expressing unhealthy personal whims.
  • One of the precepts of secularism, a consequence of the principle of separation between religions and State, is that the State neither recognizes nor privileges religions. Thus, religious beliefs and practices are entirely the responsibility of believers. But those who promote Canadian multiculturalism, on the other had, adopt the opposite attitude: multiculturalists (i.e. communitarians) hold the State responsible for the consequence of religious beliefs and practices and must accommodate them, hence the notorious practise of religious accommodation. Religious believers are thus relieved of all responsibility. This is completely backwards! The idea that the State should submit to the demands of believers is unacceptable. Such a communitarian approach is incompatible with secularism and its implementation in Canada is yet another proof of the necessity of Bill 21. The State must not be held hostage to people who choose to behave like walking billboards for a religion. Those who choose to wear religious symbols are the only ones responsible for their choice.
  • The judges talk a lot about infringements of fundamental rights of the employee of the State, but never mention infringements of the freedom of conscience of users of civil services or pupils in public schools. The judges refer only to the “public interest”—a rather vague term—without specifying that such public interest is in fact the need to protect the fundamental rights of users and students. When a teacher wears a religious symbol, he or she is violating the pupils’ freedom of conscience by engaging in religious advertising, i.e. passive proselytizing, thus violating the freedom of conscience of his or her pupils. Rights are not absolute. The rights of one person or group may conflict with those of another, as they do here. The obvious solution is for the teacher to abstain from wearing religious symbols while on the job, but maintaining full freedom off the job.
  • The Chief Justice expresses the opinion that the grandfather clause in Bill 21 weakens the government’s case opposing the suspension of the Bill, because the presence of that clause implies that there is no great urgency to apply the ban. Thus, she confirms that including that clause was indeed a very bad idea.
  • The grounds given by judge Mainville include a number of excellent points related to the Islamic veil and legislation in Europe and elsewhere relevant to the veil. In paragraph [139] he writes that “several democratic, liberal societies have adopted such measures” banning the wearing of religious symbols.
  • Even though Mainville rejects the appeal and his comments are much more reasonable than those of the other two judges, in paragraph [114] he seems unfortunately to be rather favourable to the communitarian and antisecular thesis that the State should take religious demands into account.
  • Judges Duval Hesler and Bélanger never consider the possibility of removing one’s religious symbol when going to work. And yet, that is exactly what Bill 21 is asking civil servants who wear them to do. Mainville does mention this point on one occasion, I believe.
  • Judges Duval Hesler and Bélanger say that Bill 21 may violate section 28 (equality of the sexes) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even though that is obviously false. Sikh men sometimes wear a turban (whereas Sikh women rarely do), but as judge Mainville points out, this cannot be considered discrimination against men caused by granting unequal religious rights to men and women. Bill 21 does not discriminate against anyone. It applies to all religions and to both men and women.
  • Even if Bill 21 violated section 28, It has not been established the Section 28 has priority over the notwithstanding clause 33. The judges in the Court of Appeal discuss this, but reach no conclusion. Thus, it has not been established that Bill 21 violates the Charter. The case is before the courts and will not be heard until the fall of 2020. In the meantime, two court decisions (this one of 2019-12-12, as well as the previous decision of judge Yergeau, 2019-07-18) have already concluded that, if there is any violation, it is not serious enough to merit an injunction suspending the law. The law remains in effect for now.
  • Finally, from a Quebec perspective, the Charter is not some sacred document. Rather, it is part of the 1982 constitution which was never approved by Quebec. So Quebec may be legally required to respect it, but not morally required to do so. If ever Bill 21 is struck down, it will be a great injustice, an example of “Might Makes Right.”

Next blog: Please Remove Your MAGA Hat at Work

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

Ontario NDP: Still Crazy After All These Years

Follies of the Religious “Left”

2019-11-28, minor corrections 2019-11-29

A quick look at how the Ontario NDP has pandered to various religions over the years.

Sommaire en français Un bref aperçu de la pratique du clientélisme religieux par le NPD ontarien au fil des ans.

The Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP), just like other branches of the ostensibly left-of-centre NDP, has always had a pro-religious bias. Back in 1985 under the Conservative government of Bill Davis, and well before the ONDP came to power in that province in 1990, the ONDP fully supported the extension of public funding to the parallel Catholic school system to 100%.

Some two decades later, it was NDPer and former attorney-general Marion Boyd who in December 2004 proposed including Muslim sharia law in arbitration of family law and inheritance. Fortunately, a widely based opposition, including even the French FNLP (Fédération nationale de la libre pensée), succeeded in convincing the Ontario government to reject this idea and, further, to remove recognition of other religious traditions. This prompted the Quebec National Assembly to adopt unanimously, on 26th May 2005, a motion opposing the implementation of Islamic courts in Quebec and in Canada:

« Que l’Assemblée nationale du Québec s’oppose à l’implantation des tribunaux dits islamiques au Québec et au Canada. »

Source

The motion, put forward by then-MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin, only one short sentence in length, does not mention any other province explicitly nor target any specific legislation.

Fast-forward to 2019. English Canada, or what is commonly referred to as RoC (outside Quebec) is rocked by an hysterical and irrational wave of anti-Quebec sentiment, motivated by a wanton misreading of Quebec’s new Bill 21 which (partially) implements secularism in that province. Unsurprisingly, the Ontario NDP has jumped on the bandwagon, even driving it. On 25th November, Andrea Horwath, ONDP MPP and Leader of the Official Opposition, proposed the following rather verbose motion, which was adopted unanimously by the legislature:

Whereas all people who wear religious symbols, including turbans, hijabs, kippahs, crucifixes and other articles of clothing that represent expressions of their faith, are welcome to serve the Ontario public; and

Whereas discrimination based on religion is prohibited by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and

Whereas Quebec passed legislation, Bill 21, that prohibits the wearing of religious symbols and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and

Whereas national civil rights groups including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, B’nai Brith Canada, the World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs have all opposed Bill 21; and

Whereas municipalities across Ontario including Mississauga, Brampton, the Peel regional council and Toronto have already passed motions condemning the legislation;

Therefore the Legislative Assembly calls on the government of Ontario to communicate its opposition to Bill 21 by formally requesting the Quebec government immediately repeal Bill 21 and by intervening in any Supreme Court challenge of Bill 21 that may be heard by the courts.

Source

The organization Atheist Freethinkers has already responded to the above motion with a press release entitled “LPA-AFT denounces the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the Ontario legislature’s motion against Quebec Bill 21”. Suffice it to say here that Ms. Horwath’s motion indulges in gross exaggeration and misrepresentation of both the intent and scope of Bill 21, making assertions that have been refuted countless times already, both on this blog and elsewhere. Furthermore, it specifically targets legislation in another province and declares an intention to interfere with that province’s laws by means of a legal challenge. In addition, the motion expresses solidarity with some rather dubious organizations, in particular the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

But it gets worse. In her remarks made before the Ontario legislature in support of her motion, Ms. Horwath made a number of outrageous allegations. For example:

I believe that we in Ontario have to continue to stand up and speak out as Canadians against any form of discrimination, prejudice, racism and intolerance.…

No one should have to choose between their faith and their career. We all need to work together to fight Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia wherever it happens and whenever and wherever we see it.

Affirming that Ontario values diversity…

…stand up and call out these kinds of discriminatory pieces of legislation and other acts of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism.…

Source

Ms. Horwath’s exaggerated statements vilify Quebec Bill 21, and indirectly the majority of Quebecers who support that very reasonable legislation, by associating it with discrimination and intolerance (Bill 21 is not discriminatory), by repeatedly evoking racism (Bill 21 has nothing to do with race), by using the nonsense term “Islamophobia” (which implies that criticizing a religion must be the result of a phobia, i.e. a mental illness). She and other participants in the debate on the motion also make liberal use of the fashionable buzzword “diversity” which is a form of virtue-signalling, so overused that it has lost much of its meaning. To use that word correctly, Bill 21 is secular legislation, and secularism is, among other things, a method of managing religious diversity, something of which the Ontario MPPs clearly have no understanding, or which they refuse to understand.

It does not stop there. You can, if you can stomach them, read the remarks of another ONDP MPP, Kevin Yarde, which are even more outrageous than those of Horwath. They basically amount to paranoia garnished with industrial quantities of whining about those poor religious victims “subjugate[d]” by “very barbaric” Bill 21.

The reality is that Bill 21 simply insists that State employees in position of authority be religiously neutral — in appearance, not just in their behaviour — while on the job. Why? In order to respect the freedom of conscience (which includes freedom of religion) of users of public services and students in public schools. This is eminently reasonable and helps protect freedoms, not threaten them. As I said in a talk at the Rationalist International conference in Cambridge, UK, last July:

For the State to be independent of religion and to show itself to be free of religious influence, both its physical installations and its human agents must be free of religious symbolism. Displaying a religious symbol on the wall of a State building or allowing a State employee to wear a visible religious symbol while on the job are both clear and obvious violations of religion-State separation. In either case, the religious symbol constitutes at the very least passive endorsement by the State of the religion being symbolized. An anti-religious or atheist symbol would also be unacceptable in both situations and for similar reasons.

Religion is, or should be, a private matter. When a religion practices exhibitionism, there is an obvious political purpose, a purpose which has no place in civic institutions.

When a public servant wears a religious symbol while on the job, they are saying that their religious affiliation is more important than their role as a representative of the State whose mandate is to serve the public. They are saying that their individual freedom of expression takes precedence over the freedom of conscience of the users and students whom they serve. This is backwards.

When the State bans the wearing of religious (or anti-religious) symbols by public servants while on the job, it is saying that it is committed to treating all citizens, all members of the public, equally and fairly, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The State thus undertakes to respect the freedom of conscience of the users of public services and students in schools.

When a public servant refuses to comply with a ban on the wearing of religious symbols while on the job, they are saying that their religious practice is so fanatical, so fundamentalist, that they cannot even present a neutral facade when it is their duty to do so.

Source

As for the Ontario NDP, they are guilty of abject clientelism. They have completely prostituted themselves to religious apologists, especially the most pious and fundamentalist, whose goal is to maintain and extend the considerable religious privileges which they already enjoy.


Abbreviations used in the above article:

  • MPP = Member of Provincial Parliament
  • NDP = New Democratic Party
    NPD = Nouveau parti démocratique
  • ONDP = Ontario New Democratic Party
  • RoC = Rest of Canada

Next blog: Three Examples of Cultural (Mis)Appropriation

English Canada Continues its Hysterical Opposition to Quebec Bill 21

2019-11-18

Three recent examples of the insanity of Canadian anti-secularists.

Sommaire en français Trois exemples récents de la folie des antilaïques canadiens.

There is no lack of examples of irrational reactions from the Rest-of-Canada (ROC) against Quebec Bill 21 (“An Act respecting the laicity of the State”). Here are three particularly egregious ones.

  1. Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary:
    Calgary city council recently voted unanimously to denounce Quebec’s Bill 21. Why? Mayor Nenshi explains:
    “We stand up for human rights and for dignity and we cannot believe that we live in a country where provinces passed a law where you have to choose between your faith and your job. The second reason is actually an incredible encroachment on municipalities. The government is telling cities in Quebec who they can hire, and they can’t hire the best people.”
    This quote is from the CBC Radio programme Because News, 2019-10-12, starting at about 9 min 20 sec. His declaration was followed by the obligatory applause from the other panelists.
    Mayor Nenshi’s statement contains at least three blatant falsehoods:
    • He implies that his city’s opposition is based on respect for “human rights.” This is nonsense. Their opposition goes against human rights by violating the human rights of users of public services and students in public schools. Their opposition is based on support for religious privilege, i.e. the privilege of religious believers to engage in religious advertising and passive proselytism while on the job in positions of authority in the public service.
    • Nenshi claims that Bill 21 forces people to “choose between your faith and your job.” No, it does not. It requires that State employees in some positions remove any religious symbols while on the job, just as a long-standing Quebec law requires that partisan political symbols not be worn on the job.
    • Nenshi claims that Bill 21 is “telling cities in Quebec who they can hire.” False. It simply requires that anyone hired to a position of authority abide by the simple rule of not engaging in religious advertising while on the job.
  2. The Globe and Mail editorial of October 28th 2019:
    I have already written about this odious screed in the blog “The Virulence of the Globe & Mail” published on the website of Atheist Freethinkers. The editorial contains several whoppers, perhaps the worst of which is its outrageous assertion that “The federal government is secular…”
  3. The Ontario legislature at Queen’s Park, Toronto:
    On November 7th 2019, the Ontario legislature unanimously adopted a motion, put forward by MPP Michael Coteau, which “reaffirms our support for diversity & our commitment that we would never introduce a law, like Bill 21, that would seek to limit or restrict religious freedoms.” The legislature thus jumps on the bandwagon, displaying a total—and probably voluntary—incomprehension of Bill 21, stupidly calling it a restriction on religious freedom when in reality it restricts only religious privilege, while helping to protect the freedom of conscience of citizens. The unanimous vote is an indicator of the totalitarian nature of the campaign against Bill 21. No dissent will be tolerated. Evidently Ontario MPPs do not care that the bill was adopted by the democratically elected government of Quebec and that it is widely supported by the population. Could they perhaps mind their own business? When was the last time the Quebec government passed a motion condemning an Ontario law, other than criticism of mistreatment of Franco-Ontarians?

All three instances described above are examples of cowardly conformism and opportunism. It is politically expedient to bash Quebec by misrepresenting and vilifying progressive legislation adopted by that province. By doing so, Mayor Nenshi, already a darling of the political and media elites because he has declared himself Muslim, ingratiates himself even further, while he throws secular Muslims who support Bill 21 under the bus. The Globe & Mail rides a wave of anti-secular hysteria which it has itself been a leader in creating. Meanwhile, MPP Michael Coteau hopes to capitalize on anti-secular panic as part of his strategy to achieve the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party.

Ironically, polls show that almost 40% of Canadians outside Québec support Bill 21 whereas that figure is greater when all of Canada (i.e. with Quebec) is included. Evidently, ordinary Canadians are more enlightened than their mainstream political and media leaders.


Next blog: L’immigration, cette question intouchable

Two Questions About Bill 21

2019-10-31

My responses to two questions, asked by a media studies student, about Bill 21.

Sommaire en français Mes réponses à deux questions, posées par un étudiant en médias, à propos de la Loi 21

As president of Libres penseurs athéesAtheist Freethinkers, I recently received an email from a university student in Toronto, asking two questions about Quebec’s secularism legislation, Bill 21. Both questions are a bit bizarre, perhaps resembling assertions more than questions. The second question is particularly tendentious and sounds almost like an accusation. The person asking the question seems to be declaring that Bill 21 somehow threatens freedoms, which is of course part of standard anti-secular propaganda. In reality, Bill 21 does the opposite: i.e. it extends freedom by protecting (partially at least) the freedom of conscience of users of public services and students in public schools.

However, in my replies which I sent to the student, I did not bother with such subtleties. I did not attempt to read between the lines or intuit the mental state of the questioner. I simply took the questions at face value and answered them directly. Below are my replies.


Question 1. Do you believe Bill 21 makes so much of an impact on Quebecers?

Bill 21 has had an enormous impact on Quebecers because it is legislation which responds to the desire of the majority of the population, and it was achieved with great difficulty and required great determination. The reaction from Canada outside Quebec (and from some inside Quebec) has been extremely hostile and irrational. Bill 21 is very moderate and positive legislation. Yet supporters of Bill 21, including the majority of French-speaking Quebecers, have been slandered and vilified by opponents of the legislation who are either too lazy or too closed-minded to even attempt to understand it.

Religious symbols are banned in public services and/or schools in France and in parts of Switzerland, Belgium and Germany. Face-coverings, including the full Islamic veil, are banned in many European and African countries, including some Muslim-majority countries. Quebec’s Bill 21 is neither exceptional nor unreasonable.

Quebecers are justifiably proud of themselves and their government for having stood firm against the overwhelming hostility of anti-secularists. The recent surge in popularity of the Bloc Québécois, as shown by results of the October 21st federal election, is due largely to the Bloc’s support for secularism.


Question 2. How have the Atheist Freethinkers taken action to ensure freedoms can be maintained?

What we have done, and continue to do, is to support Bill 21 actively and to promote extending it further. Bill 21 promotes human rights and freedoms by removing some partisan religious symbols from public services and schools. It would be even better if it were extended to ALL public servants, not just those in positions of authority. Banning religious symbols for public employees on the job is a small, reasonable restriction on those employees (which only applies when they are on the job) which has a positive benefit for all users and students because it provides them with an environment free of religious advertising and passive proselytizing. It is not enough to remove religious symbols from the walls; they must be removed from State employees too.

We at Atheist Freethinkers participate in a coalition called the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL). See, for example, the page Press Conference RPL, 2019-05-06 about the RPL’s press conference a few months ago.

Here is some suggested reading:


Next blog: English Canada Continues its Hysterical Opposition to Quebec Bill 21

There is Nothing Friendly About Hemant Mehta’s Gross Ignorance

2019-08-31 — Updated 2019-09-03

My response to a particularly inept, obnoxious and anti-secular blog by a well known American atheist blogger who opposes Quebec Bill 21.

Sommaire en français Ma réponse à un billet de blogue particulièrement inepte, infect et anti-laïque publié sur le site d’un blogueur américain athée bien connu qui s’oppose à la Loi 21 au Québec.

Hemant Mehta is an American blogger who uses the nickname Friendly Atheist and who claims to support secularism. And yet, in a blog entitled Quebec’s Bill 21, Now a Law, Foolishly Bans Religious Symbols for State Workers, published the day after the adoption of the bill which institutes State secularism in the Canadian province of Quebec, Mehta attacks the legislation for its removal of some religious privileges (which Mehta, like religious bigots who oppose secularism, mislabels as “rights”).

We all know, or should know, that human rights cannot, in general, be absolute. There are always reasonable limits. The rights of one person may conflict with the rights of another. Freedom of expression cannot be infinite because, for example, defamation is unacceptable. Most reasonable people would agree that the rights of a pregnant women—i.e. to health, well-being and survival—have priority over any supposed “right to life” of the foetus she is carrying. The rights of children are limited because they lack the maturity to exercise those rights fully. Furthermore, one right of a person may even conflict with another right of the same person. If a child refuses a life-saving blood transfusion for religious reasons, then the child’s life must take precedence over the child’s freedom of religion, because a dead child has no freedom. Freedom of religion must not be absolute for adults either. If an airline pilot were to leave his or her post during take-off or landing, claiming that it was time for prayer, he or she would be guilty of criminal negligence.

Now consider the case of a classroom in an elementary or secondary school, with one teacher and, say, twenty pupils. Suppose that the teacher wants to wear an ostentatious religious symbol, even while teaching. Here we have yet another case of a conflict between rights, between the freedom of religious expression of the teacher and the freedom of conscience of the pupils, i.e. their right to an educational environment free from religious proselytism, including passive proselytizing using symbols. Which should take precedence? The answer is obvious:

  1. Schools exist in order to educate students, not to employ teachers. Students are the reasons schools exist, so their rights should have precedence.
  2. The students are for more numerous than the teacher. Thus, again, their rights should have precedence.
  3. The students are children or adolescents and are thus highly susceptible to influence. They should not be subjected to unnecessary advertising (which is what religious symbols are).
  4. The teacher’s duty is to impart knowledge, teach skills and serve as a role model. The teacher should remain neutral when dealing with sensitive subjects such as religion.

The obvious solution to the conflict between the teacher’s desire to express their religion even while teaching and the student’s right to a quality educational environment free from propaganda is for the teacher to maintain religious neutrality, including visual neutrality by refraining from wearing obvious religious symbols on the job. To do otherwise would be to grant the teacher a religious privilege incompatible with the rights of students. The teacher regains full rights when off the job.

Quebec’s Bill 21 wisely takes this approach by banning teachers from wearing religious symbols. Unfortunately there are exceptions: there is a grandfather clause for teachers already employed before the Draft Bill was first published. Also, it does not apply to private schools, which nevertheless receive considerable public funding in Quebec. Nevertheless, Bill 21 is a very good step in the right direction. The law also bans religious symbols worn by police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges, and this is also a progressive measure because all of these positions exercise coercive authority, and hence their neutrality, both in deed and in appearance, is very important.

So what does Hemant Mehta have to say about Bill 21 in his June 17th blog?

  • In the very title, Mehta says that the ban is “Foolish” when in fact it is eminently reasonable as explained above.
  • Mehta writes that religious symbols are banned for some users of public services too. This is patently false. For users, only face-coverings are banned.
  • Mehta writes that some religious believers are “required by their faith to wear certain symbols.” This is nonsense. Unless the individual is forced by their family or community to wear such a symbol (in which case banning symbols will help that person to resist unacceptable coercion), then they are not obligated by anything other than their personal choice. Even religious activists who vehemently oppose Bill 21 claim that they wear their symbol by choice. Well then, they can choose to remove it if required to do so for their job.
  • Mehta complains about the law’s invocation of the so-called “notwithstanding clause” to make the legislation less vulnerable to court challenges. That clause is part of the Canadian constitution. It is perfectly legitimate to use it, especially when, despite strong popular support for the legislation, a small but extremely noisy and irrational opposition (whose ideas Mehta himself echoes) threatens to delay or disrupt adoption of the law.
  • Mehta wants to have his cake and eat it too, to call himself secular while allowing religious interference in the State.

  • Mehta hypocritically claims that he “actively supports the separation of religion and politics.” That is false. Mehta wants to have his cake and eat it too, to call himself secular while allowing religious interference in the State. If he would allow a policeman or policewoman, for example, to wear an obvious crucifix or hijab or other religious symbol while on duty, then he is not separating religion from the State. On the contrary, he is allowing the State to endorse the religion being displayed.
  • […]advertising, whether commercial or religious, is not benign, especially where children are targetted.

  • Mehta claims that the wearing of religious symbols in this context is “harmless.” Bullshit. Apparently he has never heard of advertising. Companies spend millions of dollars on it—because it works. Whether to sell a product or simply to normalize a brand (such as the Islamist veil) so that everyone gets lulled into thinking it is perfectly normal, advertising, whether commercial or religious, is not benign, especially where children are targetted.
  • Mehta uses the familiar “religious minorities [are] persecuted” excuse in order to grant impunity to minority religions. This is a standard strategy of the regressive pseudo-left. By doing so, he stigmatizes criticism of these religions and he lumps all adherents of a religion into the same category, which invariably benefits the most pious, fundamentalist and even radical coreligionists. For example, failure to criticize the Islamist program of imposing the veil anywhere and everywhere empowers Islamists, while betraying more moderate, secular Muslims and ex-Muslims. Allowing the hijab to proliferate unabated—or worse, to celebrate it!—sends the message that women who do not wear it, especially Muslim women, are impure and unworthy of respect.
  • Mehta complains that Bill 21 contains provisions which monitor its application, for enforcement purposes. Well of course it does! What good is a law which is left unenforced? What good is a law which may be violated with total impunity?

Basically, what Mehta is saying is that the freedom of religious expression of public servants and teachers is absolute and that the freedom of conscience of users and students is worth shit. He would allow unrestricted religious advertising by public servants and teachers while on the job. He gives total priority to those religious believers who are so fanatical that they insist on wearing their symbol absolutely everywhere, as if it were as essential to them as an internal organ. By doing so, he betrays the vast majority of citizens who have a right to public services and schools without religious interference.

Mehta displays gross ignorance of secularism and a total disregard for the importance of secularism in the French-speaking world. In comparison, the English-speaking world displays a disturbing ineptness with regard to the key concept of separation between religion and State, without which secularism degenerates into a pale caricature of itself.

Mehta is apparently completely oblivious to the role played by the regressive or identitarian pseudo-left in opposing secularism[…]

But perhaps most disturbing at all, Mehta is apparently completely oblivious to the role played by the regressive or identitarian pseudo-left in opposing secularism and in poisoning debates about religion and secularism. That toxic movement affects many countries but is particularly strong in the U.S.A. and Canada. It has been weaponized by political Islam in order to demonize secularism with the goal of destroying it. France is currently a major target. Hemant Mehta falls right into step by repeating that movement’s propaganda against Quebec Bill 21. Mehta’s blog is a typical example of regressive pseudo-leftist discourse.

In conclusion, I have this to say to Hemant Mehta:

My name is David Rand. I am president of an organization named Atheist Freethinkers (AFT) based in Montreal and spokesperson for the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL) which is a coalition of several groups (including feminists, North Africans, AFT and other secularists) working for secularism in Quebec. We supported and continue to support Bill 21, while criticizing its weaknesses (for example, it should apply to the entire public service, not just parts.) I am proud to be part of that coalition. The Québécois people are in the vanguard on the issue of secularism, just as they have been trailblazers for several other social issues.

As for you, Mr. Mehta, you have no excuse for your ignorance. An ordinary person with no particular involvement with these issues may be easily confused by biased media reports. But you are a well known blogger in the atheist and freethinking communities of your country. You have a duty to be better informed. You claim to be a secularist. Yet you throw Quebec secularists, such as us, under the bus. Indeed you throw the Québécois in general under that bus. You also abandon secular Muslims to the Islamist wolves. You side with the fundamentalists and obscurantists who cling to their religious privileges, some of which you are all too happy to let them keep. You have no excuse for your unscrupulous betrayal of secularism in the one place in North America—Quebec—where it has made the most significant progress in recent decades.

At least we know who are friends are not.


Next blog: Sometimes Makeup Is Just Makeup