Secularism: A Unifying Principle
A secularism charter would be a historic breakthrough for Quebec
Rassemblement pour la laïcité (Alliance for Secularism), Déclaration 2013
You are invited to sign the petition on the site RASSEMBLEMENT POUR LA LAÏCITÉ (Alliance for Secularism).
The following is an English translation of the petition, the statement of principles of the Rassemblement.
Our organization Atheist Freethinkers is proud to participate in this initiative.
We are citizens of all political persuasions, from all backgrounds and of all ages gathered around the principle of secularism as a project for the future of Quebec society. The current social debate raises the question of what society we want for tomorrow. We believe that a society’s future cannot rely on the exaggeration of differences, but on adherence to a common basis of citizen values.
We endorse the Déclaration pour un Québec laïque et pluraliste (Declaration for a secular and pluralistic Quebec) published in 2010 by the collective Intellectuals for secularism. We adopt the basic principles of that declaration, in the context of government policies introduced by the Government of Quebec.
1. The Need to Complete the Historical Process of Secularization
To be truly neutral, the state must be neutral. The state should not favour any religion or spiritual option and, conversely, religions must prohibit any interference by the state in their institutions. This is the meaning of the first title, the concept of secularism.
Secularism also has components of an individual nature: freedom of conscience and religion. By not promoting any religion and protecting freedom of conscience, the secular state ensures religious and societal pluralism. To recognize secularism is to confirm that we live in a state under the rule of law, where all citizens are equal and where freedom of conscience is as valid as freedom of religion.
Our legislation suffers from a deficit in this area because state secularism is affirmed nowhere, while individual freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution. This creates a democratic deficit. The principle of separation of religion and state was erected in part by the courts and if secularism is not recognized and enshrined in our laws there is no guarantee that this principle will not be dismantled in favour of contrary claims or new legal interpretations.
Thus, far from being a negation of pluralism, secularism constitutes its foundation. It is the only way to achieve an equal and fair treatment of all convictions because it does not promote or in any way accommodate either atheism or religious faith.
The Rassemblement pour la laïcité (Alliance for Secularism) therefore supports the intention of the Government of Quebec to introduce legislation establishing the secular character of the state and its institutions and to enshrine this principle in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to provide it with quasi-constitutional significance.
Secularism is also a prerequisite for equality between men and women, the Rassemblement also believes that managing requests for religious accommodation in a secular context must be closely linked to respect for the principle of equality as stipulated by the government’s orientation document.
2. Secularism is Part of Quebec’s Heritage.
The idea of state/church separation was already expressed in the Declaration of Independence of 1838 proclaimed by the Patriots. The principle was subsequently defended by the Institut canadien which included Papineau, Dessaulles, Doutre and Buies. Later, the Premier Adelard Godbout and his Minister Télesphore-Damien Bouchard defied the Catholic Church by granting the right to vote to women and adopting a law on compulsory public education. In 1975, Quebec adopted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which recognizes the freedom of conscience and equality of religions, two essentially secular notions. More recently, the deconstruction of the old denominational school structure was completed when Catholics and Protestants waived their constitutional rights.
Secularism is thus part of Quebec’s historic landscape or historical heritage, a gain for modern Quebec. It is now important to complete the last phase of these democratic advances.
3. The Neutrality of the State has Implications.
The neutrality of the state is expressed by the neutrality of the image given by its representatives and agents, which must be real and apparent. They must avoid displaying their religious, philosophical or political affiliation. The idea that secularism should apply only to institutions rather than the individuals who work there is a red herring leading to a denial of the principle of secularism.
All citizens must be represented by the state and the state must be the voice of all citizens. Between the right to religious expression and the public’s right to a service respecting the convictions of all, it is the latter that must prevail in public institutions.
Furthermore, the wearing of religious symbols or clothing is not part of freedom of religion as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which limits that freedom to the right to have a religion, to pass it on to others and to practice its rites (Article 18). Based on that same article, the European Human Rights Tribunal has ruled in favour of secular states which have prohibited the wearing of religious symbols by their employees.
4. Transitional Arrangements
The Rassemblement recognizes that, for some institutions, a transition period may be necessary for the implementation of the provisions prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols. Such an arrangement is preferable to granting a right of renewable withdrawal as that would likely lead to inequality and inconsistency.
Although neutrality of the state must include individuals, it must involve buildings and installations as well. For this reason, the Rassemblement believes it would be more logical to move the crucifix from the National Assembly — where laws are voted — to another location in order to to mark this milestone in the separation of state and religion.
5. Building the Future
For a decade, news reports have led us to question the role of religion in the public sphere. It is essential to put an end to the legal uncertainty that has prevailed for too long in this area and the social tensions that it generates.
It is important that all of Quebec’s active participants who value freedom of conscience, gender equality, pluralism and the independence of the state from religion band together to make this democratic struggle a source of pride for Quebec and a way to build and structure our common future.
Quebecers have a collective right to a state based on the primacy of the rule of law.
English translation: D.R.
- Association humaniste du Québec (AHQ)
- Association québécoise des Nord-Africains pour la laïcité (AQNAL)
- Citizens in action
- Coalition Laïcité Québec (CLQ)
- Collectif pour la laïcité de Québec solidaire
- Comité des orphelins de Duplessis victimes d’abus (CODVA)
- Éditions Sisyphe
- Fondation humaniste du Québec
- Les Intellectuels pour la laïcité (IPL)
- Institut québécois du judaïsme laïque
- LGBT pour la laïcité
- Libres penseurs athées/Atheist Freethinkers
- Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ)
- Pour les droits des femmes au Québec (PDF Québec)
- Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec libre (SPQ libre)
- Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec (SFPQ)
To consult the list of first individual signatories, and to sign the declaration yourself, please go to the site RASSEMBLEMENT POUR LA LAÏCITÉ.