The Province of Quebec is proposing to ban the wearing of any and all religious headgear (including hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes, as well as other religious symbols) from public facilities and public service – affecting teachers, hospital workers, daycare workers, nurses, civil servants and (we assume) politicians.
The law would also cover “ostentatious” crucifixes, which has led to darkly humorous speculation about police stopping people to measure the size of their crucifix.
What about a tattoo of a giant “Om” on someone’s back? Would the owner have to remove it? Cover it up?
What about priests’ collars or nuns’ habits, worn in every Catholic school in the province. They’re public sector, aren’t they?
And what about displays of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Evolvefish? Or the red atheist “A”? Atheist symbols aren’t religious, so would they be exempt under this new law? *
It would be a bad law, as bad if not worse than the province’s repressive language laws. And it will spark innumerable challenges based on the Charter of Rights’ declaration of religious freedom.**
Not long ago, Quebec’s soccer federation tried to ban the wearing of Sikh turbans on the field. Why? Do turbans proffer a hithertofore unknown benefit to the wearers; performance-enhancing headgear like drugs? Or the opposite? The federation mumbled incoherently about safety, although there has been no turban-related injury ever recorded.
Could it be that turbans have no effect whatsoever on the player or his game and it was just racially-motivated? The general consensus was the latter, and the federation had to backtrack and rescind the ban after it became an international issue. The backlash was embarrassing and awkward, but the PQ government stood by the soccer federation.
While the PQ government – Canada’s answer to the Tea Party, it seems – remains tight-lipped about the upcoming ban on religious displays, the speculation is that Quebec wants to enforce a secular state by legislation. It has announced plans to release a Quebec secular “values” document this fall.
Clearly they haven’t learned from history: Lenin and his successors tried to do that and failed. The more the state interferes with religion, the more it thrives. I suspect that this attempt by the PQ will galvanize the province’s fading Catholicism. Nothing like a good punch-up to bring out the believers. Britain has its soccer hooligans; Quebec may have its Catholic hooligans if this passes.***
Values cannot be legislated. Instilled, taught, expressed and promoted, but – like taste and talent – not legislated. Lead by example, Marois, not by the iron fist.