Jewish and Muslim groups in the Canadian province of Quebec have spoken out against a controversial bill that would ban wearing any religious symbols in governmental offices, agencies and institutions. These include the Kippah, hijab, turban, cross and the Star of David.
The initiative, named the Charter of Quebec Values, was tabled at the Quebec parliament, the National Assembly, on Thursday.
The proposed bill will prohibit the wearing of “overt and conspicuous religious symbols” by state personnel, including in ministries and organizations; state personnel such as judges, prosecutors, police officers, and correctional agents; daycare and private subsidized daycare personnel; school board personnel; public health network and social services personnel; and municipal personnel.
B’nai Brith Canada condemned the initiative hours after it was tabled, saying it would “violate fundamental freedoms enshrined in both the Canadian and Quebec Charters.”
“Legislation of this type discriminates against persons of faith by denying their right to religious expression,” said Me Allan Adel, National Chair of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada.
“The Government, by setting itself up as the arbiter of religious expression, is doing the exact opposite of its supposed goal of achieving a secular state,” he said. “This contradiction and notion that state secularism forbids the acceptance of religious expression in the public realm is itself an example of the misguided nature of the bill. The League, with its proven record of defending human rights, is prepared to intervene should it be necessary.”
Frank Dimant, CEO, B’nai Brith Canada, added, “By denying persons of faith their rights to religious expression, the legislation will only create divisions in Quebec society where persons of faith will be considered second class and indeed unwanted citizens.”
“Quebecers and all Canadians must be allowed to exercise their fundamental right of religious expression,” declared Dimant.
Jewish groups, however, are not the only ones condemning the proposal, according to a report in Shalom Toronto on Sunday.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) has also weighed in on the bill, saying it was an application of institutionalized discrimination and actually creates two classes of people in Quebec.
"Instead of making use of effective and established tools to balance between rights, the bill relies on the foundation of ‘the ends justify the means’ to achieve the goal of a religiously neutral province," NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee was quoted by Shalom Toronto as having said.
“This is an issue concerning human rights,” he added. “Freedom of religion protects the public's right to worship or not worship a particular religion. In the absence of freedom of religion, the religious neutrality of the state is meaningless.”