A general election will be held in Quebec on October 3rd. The Rassemblement pour la laïcité (Alliance for Secularism) has some important questions for the various political parties. The text below is a translation of an article which appeared in French in the Journal de Montréal and on TVA Nouvelles, on 1st September 2022.
Nadia El-Mabrouk, for the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL)
At the start of the electoral campaign, the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL) would like to know the positions and commitments of the various political parties on the issue of secularism, an essential subject that has an impact on almost all government policies.
1) The Law on State Secularism (Bill 21)
Bill 21 (“Act respecting the laicity of the State”) affirms the Quebec model of secularism. It is based on the principles of separation of State and religions, gender equality, religious neutrality and freedom of conscience and religion, on which there is a broad consensus. Yet, because it imposes a minimum requirement on certain State employees in positions of authority that they not display religious symbols while performing their duties, it has, since its adoption in 2019, been the subject of court challenges and virulent attacks against the majority of Quebecers of all origins who support Bill 21 and its interpretation of State religious neutrality. Therefore the RPL would like to know:
Question 1: Will your party commit to defending Bill 21 and the Quebec model of secularism firmly, using both legislative and judicial means available to the Quebec State?
Question 2: What is your party’s commitment to educating the public and promoting the principles underlying Bill 21 as a source of harmony in a pluralist and multi-religious society, and to announcing the right of Quebeckers to secular public services?
Question 3: What are your commitments to improving Bill 21, in particular the part of the law which specifies the scope of State religious neutrality among some of the State’s representatives?
2) Secular Education
The Quebec Citizenship and Culture (QCC) program will be the subject of a pilot project, as soon as the school year begins, in some fifty elementary and secondary schools in Quebec, replacing the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. This comes after more than ten years in which ERC has been contested by various citizen groups, in particular because of the preponderance which it gives to religious rites, beliefs and practices, with no room for critical judgment on these issues. In the presentation of the new QCC program, State secularism is presented as a collective right in Quebec, while religion is no longer declared to be the main marker of identity and the development of critical thinking plays an important role. This all sounds promising to us. However, the QCC program will have to undergo numerous and varied stages before being concretely implemented. As reactions to the announcement of the program have sometimes been virulent, the RPL would like to know your position.
Question 4: Are you committed to supporting and promoting the replacement of the Ethics and Religious Culture program with one which reinforces secular education and the acquisition of critical thinking?
Apart from this program, Canada, including Quebec, is affected by a climate of censorship, self-censorship and cancel culture, the effects of which are harmful for freedom of expression, and for academic freedom as well. Moreover, the recent attempt to assassinate Salman Rushdie is a troubling reminder of the dangers incurred by citizens, particularly those of Muslim culture, who dare to speak out against religions. And yet, freedom of expression is a fundamental freedom, a prerequisite for ensuring freedom of religion and conscience, which must be protected in a secular State. Unfortunately, instead of defending free speech, the federal hate speech and hate crime bill, if passed into law, will make free speech even more difficult if that speech could be considered blasphemous by believers. Therefore we would like to know:
Question 5: What does your party intend to do to promote and enforce freedom of expression, starting with the Quebec school system, including universities, and including the right to criticize religious practices or beliefs?
3) Private Religious Schools
A secular education system aims, first and foremost, to protect the freedom of conscience of students at an age when they are particularly easily influenced and vulnerable to ideological pressure. By providing them with a neutral learning environment free from religious pressure, we allow them to develop their own judgment and worldview. However, since the Act respecting State secularism does not apply to private schools, there is currently nothing to offer the young people who attend them to protect their freedom of conscience and religion. Therefore, the RPL would like to know:
Question 6: What do you propose to ensure that all children in Quebec have the same rights in regard to secularism, and that they are not exposed to teachings contrary to the fundamental values of the common public culture of Quebec society in all schools, including religious schools?
Question 7: Do you undertake to make the subsidies granted to private schools and daycare centres contingent on their respect for State secularism?
Question 8: Will you commit to phasing out funding for private religious schools and daycare centres?
Question 9: More generally, what are your commitments with regard to tax privileges granted to religious communities?
Thank you for your responses.