For many years now, countries around the world have been faced with the question of minority rights and religious accommodation. In Canada, where I currently live, questions about niqabs in courtrooms, voting stations and citizenship ceremonies have been raised in the past five years. Part of the debate has been the meaning of religious accommodation, the latest case being that of a student at York University who requested to be excused from working with females on religious bases. While the professor denied the request and the student agreed to complete group work with women, York’s authorities maintained that the student should have been accommodated. The incident raised questions about competing rights and what should be protected most stringently: gender equality or religious freedoms.
One of the most important pieces of legislation currently being discussed in the province of Québec is bill 60. Bill 60, also known as the Charter of Secularism or the Charter of Values, is the latest piece of legislation that seeks to “affirm” the neutrality and secularism of the State by banning “conspicuous” religious symbols from the public sphere (i.e. hijabs, niqabs, kippas, turbans, etc.). Krista, our editor-in-chief, has written about the challenges that such a bill would bring to Québec and has been working with different organizations to challenge the bill. Two weeks ago, Krista presented at the University of Ottawa along with Anna Shea (Amnesty International) and Natasha Bakht (Law Professor at the University of Ottawa) about the bill; as she pointed out, much damage has already been done by the rhetoric surrounding the Charter of Values, particularly when it comes to many Muslim women’s sense of safety and belonging in Quebec.
Discussions about “proper” religious accommodation and the extent to which Canadians are “willing” to accept “certain” practices are a Canada-wide issue. Recently, Angus Raid Global put together a survey of attitudes towards non-Christian practitioners in Canada. The survey found that Canadians are not very fond of Islam, and that perspectives on Muslims have worsened in the past five years. Now, I am not a statistician, but my Program Evaluation professor would wonder about empirical methods, people interviewed and general interpretation of results. Nonetheless, I think it is important to highlight surveys like this because they are often taken up by the media, for example in Maclean’s magazine. [Read more...]