Against Vaccination Exemptions for Religious Reasons in the Federal Public Service
The Alliance for Secularism (Rassemblement pour la laïcité or RPL) is compelled to respond to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s October 6, 2021 declaration that federal public service employees may be granted immunization exemptions for religious reasons. State religious neutrality is essential, and all the moreso when it comes to public health. “In the context of the current pandemic, the beliefs of some individuals must not be allowed to impact the well-being of others, to the detriment of everyone’s health. This religious exception is not only dangerous, but it also risks exacerbating the cynicism of the population and undermining the government’s vaccination effort” said RPL President Claude Kamal Codsi.
During the controversy over so-called reasonable accommodation which gave rise to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences), Quebecers forcefully expressed their disagreement with such measures allowing laws or regulations to be circumvented for religious reasons. Such privileges granted by the courts to people on the basis of their religion have in no way met social acceptance. What then must we think of a religious accommodation that makes it possible to circumvent a measure aimed at protecting the health of individuals and that of their loved ones? If adherents of a religion can opt out of vaccination, why should it not be the same for people who refuse vaccination for any other moral reason? Does Canada grant the monopoly of morality to religious institutions alone?
The RPL takes note of the comments of Canada’s Prime Minister, claiming that such immunization exemptions are intended to comply with the Canadian Human Rights Act. However, is not the spirit of this law to ensure equality and the well-being of all citizens? Is there not a problem if this law is now used to justify discriminatory measures and religious favoritism? Such an overly broad interpretation of the notion of religious freedom is an obstacle to collective well-being, and contradicts the very spirit of human rights charters. It is time for the legislator to circumscribe this notion of religious freedom in order to prevent judicial excesses and religious accommodations that exceed social acceptability. “Religious freedom should never be interpreted as the freedom to contravene regulations established for the good of all and laws passed democratically,” concludes Claude Kamal Codsi.
We urge governments, both federal and provincial, to respect the religious neutrality of the State and to avoid undermining efforts to fight the pandemic with religious exceptions.
In this context, the religious exception to vaccination granted by the Government of Canada to federal public service employees must be abolished. Similarly, the decision of the Government of Quebec to exempt places of worship from the vaccine passport requirement, thus contradicting efforts to limit the spread of the virus, must also be repealed.
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Mr. Claude Kamal Codsi,
Alliance for Secularism (Rassemblement pour la laïcité, RPL)