AFT Blog # 38: Brief, Bill 60

Excerpts from our Brief in Support of Bill 60

Atheist Freethinkers, 2013-12-23

We of the organization Libres penseurs athées – Atheist Freethinkers have submitted a brief to the Quebec government’s Commission des institutions. Our brief concerns draft Bill 60 which would establish a “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests,” formerly known as the “Charter of Quebec Values.”

We support this draft bill, with certain reservations of course. Our brief is entitled “Ensuring a Secular Future for Quebec. Freedom of Conscience also includes Freedom From Religion.” We publish some excerpts here, namely the brief’s Summary and Conclusion. Public hearings on draft Bill 60 will be held by the Commission starting in mid-January of 2014.

Summary

Our priority is freedom of conscience, from which freedom of religion and freedom from religion are derived. A secular state is necessary, firstly, to establish an equilibrium between those two freedoms, and, secondly, to regulate religions in order to prevent conflict between competing religions and also to prevent them from violating the rights of non-religious.

We support the Charter proposed by Bill 60 because it formally establishes the secular nature of the state and protects freedom of conscience, to which religions themselves constitute a threat. The neutrality of the state and the public service, as provided by the Charter, will ensure freedom of conscience for the clientele of public services. These clients are more numerous than public servants. Protecting their freedoms is as essential as protecting those of civil servants. Furthermore, within the Quebec population, atheists and those without religious affiliation are the largest minority opinion with respect to religion.

In this brief we express several reservations about Bill 60, but on the whole we consider that the Charter will facilitate the completion of the secularization of Quebec. It may also serve as a model for other provinces and other jurisdictions.


Conclusion

The Government of Quebec is currently faced with a major challenge. In proposing this Charter, it has raised fierce opposition from several of the most backward elements in Quebec and Canada. Topping the list are the fundamentalists who deliberately blur the distinction between religion and ethnicity in order that they may more easily throw false accusations of racism at their opponents. Then come diehard supporters of multiculturalism who are fooled by this hateful and unproductive propaganda. Finally, bringing up the rear are numerous francophobes who never miss an opportunity to express their venom and their visceral hatred whenever Quebec takes some new initiative.

If the charter is not adopted, this failure will be tragic, because we will have missed an historic opportunity to advance secularism. Secularists will have lost across the board and secularism will suffer a major setback. How many years will we have to wait before a similar opportunity is again presented to the public? Meanwhile, religious extremism may gain ground.

However, if the Charter is adopted, Quebec will become a benchmark of secularism. It will be positioned at the forefront of the world for the protection of freedom of conscience. Quebec will be able to use the Charter as a promotional tool to attract millions of people eager to flee theocratic or obscurantist regimes. They will find in Quebec a society where freedom of religion coexists with freedom from religion.

For all these reasons, we urge the Government to consider seriously the use of the “Notwithstanding” clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to prevent the Supreme Court of Canada from invalidating Bill 60.

The secular principles enshrined in the Charter allow us to envisage the elimination of all social and tax advantages from which religious institutions in Quebec benefit. Such privileges are downright anachronistic. With these secular principles we believe that it will be possible to accelerate the secularization of Quebec, especially if the application of these principles is accompanied by the creation of a mechanism to monitor the implementation of those measures which are unfortunately lacking from Bill 60 but which are implied by the principles which it establishes – measures which we of Libres penseurs athées – Atheist Freethinkers have listed in this brief and wish to see adopted.

In the name of freedom of conscience, in the name of the freedom of the individual to practice the religion of his/her choice, or none at all, the state must be neutral, must favour no religion and must protect the consciences of all against proselytizing influences. Only through state neutrality as manifested in public institutions and their personnel can these freedoms, acquired at such cost, be fully guaranteed.


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