At 4 am today, François Legault’s government passed Bill 21 for the province of Quebec. The bill isn’t secularism, but rather a blatant attempt to enforce authoritarian state-atheism, the likes of which can be seen in China. Bill 21 is a threat to personal liberties.
There exists a fundamental difference between secularism and state-atheism.
Secularism is the indifference to, or rejection or exclusion of, religion and religious considerations. Effectively, secularism refers to the separation of church and state.
Secularism in modern western democratic societies goes hand-in-hand with religious freedom. The government will have no business in dictating the religious beliefs of peoples, while the people are free to wear or adorn whatever religious items they wish to.
That’s what secularism is. But what secularism isn’t, is State-Atheism.
State-Atheism is the incorporation of positive atheism or non-theism into political regimes. It effectively allows the state to force its belief of non-religiosity on you.
How this is different from conventional secularism, is that it forbids you from displaying your religious beliefs openly. Countries that follow state-atheism include China, East Germany, and the Soviet Union.
The Québec law forbids teachers, police, government lawyers and others in positions of authority from wearing personal religious symbols such as the cross, the kippah, the turban, or the hijab. In countries like China and the USSR, this was taken even further where people couldn’t even practice religion.
It certainly leads to a horrible slippery-slope of authoritarianism.
The bill was passed with a gigantic 73-35 majority. Parti Quebecois supported the CAQ motion, while the Liberals and Quebec Solidaire rejected it.
In the final minutes of the bill’s passing, Mr. Legault’s government added a provision to allow inspectors to verify the law is being followed. Basically a “State-Atheism police.” Like as if banning the display of our religious liberties wasn’t authoritarian enough, the government can now criminally charge people for exercising their liberties.
Numerous rights groups have reacted in dismay to this bill. CIJA, the advocacy group for Jews in Canada, released the following statement:
“This bill is reckless. It undermines religious freedom and equal access to employment in the public and parapublic sectors. Furthermore, we are troubled by the last-minute amendments tightening the provisions of the law and its implementation, which were not discussed in depth or subject to public consultation.”
The World Sikh Organization released a statement before the passing of the bill, showing its vehement opposition:
“Bill 21 is in effect offensive to neutrality or secularism in the public sector, and does nothing to advance the cause of gender equality. We fear that it will result in a divided society that marginalizes certain visible religious minorities and create an atmosphere of intolerance and inequity.”
What’s worse, the law includes the notwithstanding clause to prevent challenges based on religious freedom under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also modifies Quebec’s Charter of Rights to reduce religious rights. This is the first time the National Assembly changed the landmark 1975 rights legislation, and that too without a consensus.
The CAQ government based its proposed legislation on the famous 2008 Bouchard-Taylor recommendations, but both authors of that report— Charles Taylor and Bouchard—reject the CAQ bill.
Bouchard said “The relationship between the majority and minorities is not in good shape,” while Taylor distanced himself from the bill altogether. “I made a mistake,” he said.
Religious groups and rights lawyers say they will try to strike down the law. Montreal school boards and some municipal leaders have already stated that they will not apply the law.
On the weekend, the School of Education at Bishop’s University became the latest group to reject the law, calling it “a dangerous precedent that creates a climate of suspicion, fear and hostility that serves to render the profession of teaching unsafe, and schools less safe, for everyone.”
It is evidently clear that the bill goes against separation of church and state in a radical way. A way so radical that there is now going to be police that will enforce this notion of State-Atheism.
This is not just an erosion of religious rights, but also the degradation of personal liberties. This sets a slippery slope of authoritarianism which will expand the arbitrary powers of the government to interfere with our lives.
The CAQ government is a blot on secularism. State-Atheism will sow more religious divisions rather than prevent it, and allowing the Quebec government to go ahead with this law could strengthen the Quebec separatist movement.