Increasing Support for the Quebec Secular Charter
Three secular organizations from outside Quebec do the right thing

David Rand, 2014-03-27

It was a little slow in coming, but recently three secular organizations from Canada outside Quebec have taken positions in favour of the Quebec Charter of secularism (proposed Bill 60).

In a press release dated February 19th 2014 and issued by Secular Ontario[1] and the Quinte Secular Humanist Association[2], both organizations indicated that they had written to Monsieur Bernard Drainville, Quebec Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, in order to express their support for the Charter. In particular, Secular Ontario “applauded the proposed legislation for Quebecers and for all Canadians as a more ‘inclusive’ approach. The removal of proselytizing symbols from the public sphere is seen as extending fairness to all citizens.”

In its letter to minister Drainville, Secular Ontario showed a clear understanding of the importance of the Charter’s most controversial provision, the ban on the wearing of religious symbols by public employees while on duty :

The use of Religious symbols within governments is a vestige of history, a relic worthy of culture but not of a secular Canada. Our Federal Charter of Rights states that we have a freedom “of conscience and religion.” We support your intent to entrench the spirit of our National Charter in Provincial Legislation that represents this core tenet for the majority of Quebecers. [...]

A visual representation of religious symbols is marketing. A secular democracy recognizes the subliminal nature of advertising. We support the position that the use of symbols in Provincial venues is discriminatory to those excluded and might be defined as oppressive. Further, permitting prescribed attire such as the burka, cloaks, head-ware and other obviously religious symbols in Provincial institutions positions the government as supporting a specific dogmatic endeavor. [...]

We hope that your initiative extends the Quebec perspective to all Canadian society. (Negative press may be based on envy of the leadership position and brave nature of the Charter.) Our national strength is based on diversity and inclusion. We are convinced that the Quebec Charter of Values helps manage a difficult juxtaposition. Are there other provinces looking to Quebec for a leadership role? This may not have been the intent of the Charter, but it would certainly be a laudable outcome.

The letter goes on to ask the minister for clarification on the issue of job security for existing employees when the legislation comes into effect.

More recently, the national organization Humanist Canada has come out in favour of the Quebec Charter. In the most recent issue of Canadian Humanist News[3], president Simon Parcher indicates that the organization’s Board of Directors supports the Charter unanimously. Parcher then goes on to summarize in a simple but effective manner why humanists and secularists must support this legislation:

It is difficult to understand how a humanist group could not support the five sections of the charter as it presents a sensible blueprint for a secular society comprised of many religions and ethnic groups.

The part of the Charter that has been most controversial is the section that forbids the wearing and display of religious symbols when providing some public services. This is but a small part of the overall document. Since people of every religious belief would be treated equally, the Charter is not discriminatory and charges of racism are not relevant. The Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights do guarantee freedom of religious expression but they also permit governments to make some exceptions. The Humanist Canada Board believes that some limits to personal freedoms need to be made in order to balance individual rights with the public good.

Congratulations to Secular Ontario, Quinte Secular Humanist Association and Humanist Canada for taking principled positions on this issue of pivotal importance for secularists.

Links

  1. Web site of Secular Ontario, including the February 19, 2014 press release from Secular Ontario and The Quinte Secular Humanist Association.
  2. Site of the Quinte Secular Humanist Association.
  3. Canadian Humanist News, Spring 2014, editorial by Simon Parcher, president of Humanist Canada.

This article is also available as a PDF document.