Canadian charter sparks fears over religious freedom threats

Quebec City, Canada, Sep 15, 2013 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A government announcement of a Charter of Quebec Values defining the Canadian province as a secular state presents a grave concern for religious liberty, a religious freedom scholar says.

“The situation in Quebec in Canada is now very worrying,” said Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, in a Sept. 12 interview with CNA.

“It’s a very dangerous, radical kind of secularization which is seeking to drive religion anywhere outside of the public square.”

The proposed charter is a new declaration of the province’s ideology, and would also change parts of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedom. Together, the two documents would affirm “the state’s independence from religions,” said Bernard Drainville, the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, which will oversee  the proposed policies.

“For this religious neutrality to take shape in public institutions, it must also show in the people who work for them,” Drainville said in a youtube video explaining the proposals.

“We therefore propose to establish a duty of religious neutrality and reserve among state personnel. This duty would mean that state employees could not wear conspicuous religious symbols while they work.”

He announced that the province will develop guidelines for religious accommodations. However, Drainville said, all accommodations “would have to respect basic Quebec values such as the equality of women and men and the state’s religious neutrality.”

“The religious accommodation must not undermine” these values Drainville added.

Marshall explained that the statute forbidding “any government workers from wearing any ostentatious religious symbols” would ban the wearing of veils, hijabs, large crucifixes, kippot – or yarlmukes, turbans, and other religious dress.

Such limitations on religious action presents a mindset that is “radically secular, and makes it the ideology of the province,” Marshall said.

He warned that the ideology could impose limitation on religious dress and action for those not working directly for the government as well. “When you have that mindset governing, it will go through all of the institutions and try to remove any religious element, and try to remove any element of conscience for people working in those institutions.”

Even religious organizations may not receive accommodations under the provincial government’s rules. “Catholic schools -they’re allowed to be ‘Catholic,’” Marshall said, but the Quebec government has already made motions saying that “it’s going to tell them what they can teach and what they can’t teach.”

“Anything which affects other people in the public life of the province, they’re trying to squeeze out.”

However, “there is some element of hope in that the government of Quebec is so overreaching in this,” Marshall said, “that a lot of people with a secular mindset think that this is just going overboard.”

“It is developing a lot of opposition elsewhere in Canada,” he noted.  “People in Quebec think this is going too far.”

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