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 athées—Atheist 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: