AFT Blog # 37: Human Rights Charters

Read the Entire Charter, Please!

Jacques Savard, 2013-11-03

You who oppose the Charter of Quebec Values as proposed by the Government of Quebec, you who describe the ban on civil servants wearing conspicuous religious symbols while on duty as a “serious” threat to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have you even read that Declaration to which you appeal with such insistence? Have you read it in its entirety, to the very end?

In your diatribes you suggest that any restriction on freedom of religion is unconstitutional. In reality, you draw this conclusion because you have not bothered to read human rights charters in their entirety and you assume the absolute primacy of freedom of religion. You do as you would with your holy books, choosing the phrase that you prefer, then building from that a fable whose conclusion is perfectly suited to your political purposes. The problem is that many feel-good leftist intellectuals in Quebec display this same religious attitude, making no effort to dig deeper into the issue.

The real world is not so Manichean. Not everything is black or white, neither in life nor in human rights charters. Read what these charters actually say. In this article I will refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but I could just as well use one of the other two charters – the Canadian or the Quebec – and arrive at similar conclusions.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1]

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The article itself indicates special circumstances where this freedom applies.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

This is the article on which the Quebec Assembly of Catholic Bishops bases its argument. But not everything has been said on this subject. You must read to the end! Even if it displeases the self-righteous pseudo-democrats and other apostles of freedom of religion. You must continue reading. All thirty articles. You can do it!

In Article 29, paragraph 2, the Charter returns to the subject. The italics are mine.

Article 29: (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of othersand of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

The Universal Declaration recognizes that governments must be able to limit rights and freedoms in order to ensure the recognition of the rights and freedoms of others and for reasons of public order and general welfare. The Quebec and Canadian charters include the same recognition and the same powers to place limits on rights and freedoms. [2]

The various charters do not consider freedom of religion to be absolute. It is not and never has been. It is about time that the Manichean pollyannas of the Quebec left took note: freedom of religion is not absolute. It may be limited according to the Universal Declaration and the two Canadian charters. A partial restriction (only obvious symbols, and only for a very small part of the population, i.e. provincial civil servants [Quebec public sector employees – and possibly, depending on the final version of the Charter, para-public]) and temporary (during working hours only) is very reasonable, it seems to me, a justifiable requirement for the general good.

You must read it all, up to the very end.

For the benefit of all those who claim to defend democracy while lecturing others about freedom, as well as for adepts of a very lax interpretation of the Universal Declaration, here are some other rights, often more important than freedom of religion, which appear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I summarize the relevant sections below, because such defenders of freedom rarely bother to mention them in their public statements.

Since you invoke the Universal Declaration as a moral reference, I assume that you accept it in its entirety. You certainly would not choose only the parts that suit you momentarily and then reject the whole Declaration later, right? Thus, you accept without restriction the following articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 1[1]: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. – In your sacred texts and your rules, your women are treated with dignity and are equal to men, correct?

Article 2-1: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind,… – In your sacred texts and your theocracies, adherents of other religions or non-believers or homosexuals are also entitled to all these rights and freedoms, correct?

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. – Tell me you do not mutilate your girls and boys by imposing a permanent physical stigma on them. Tell me that all your faithful, and especially women, may think freely without risk to their lives. Tell me that you do not promote the killing of infidels and apostates!

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. – In your sacred texts and your theocracies, this is the case, right? No stoning? No amputations of hands?

Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. – In your regulations and your sacred texts, this is the case, correct? A wife can divorce her husband as easily as he can divorce her? If women are raped, will you defend them instead of jailing them for breach of sexual mores?

Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. – In your theocracies, your wives have the right to move about freely and unaccompanied, even driving a car?

Article 16: (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. – Forced marriages of minors no longer occur, right? And the consummation of marriages with prepubescent children? And polygamy? You no longer have the right to punish your wives physically, even kill them with impunity?

Article 16: (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. – In your religion, you respect these fundamental rights, do you not? Again, you no longer arrange marriages with prepubescent children?

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. – In your theocracies, you respect these fundamental rights, in particular with regard to other religions, atheists and apostates, correct?

Article 26: Everyone has the right to education.… – In your theocracies, you respect these fundamental rights, particularly for women, do you not? Young women who want to learn are no longer targets of physical attacks, correct?

There are many other rights and freedoms not mentioned in this list for which I could ask similar questions. But I can already anticipate your answers. You must first and foremost defend freedom of religion because, you will tell me, it protects all these other fundamental rights. For you, freedom of religion takes priority over all those other rights that your theocracies are happy to ignore or abolish. Please be advised that, as far as I am concerned, your practice of happily forgetting all those other rights constitutes the measure of your credibility when you use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a means to condemn the Charter of Quebec Values.


  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations
  2. Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, : Article 3 et 9.1
    Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Articles 1 et 2-a

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