Blog 069: Three Declarations Against Displays of Religious Symbols

David Rand


In this blog, we remind our web site visitors of three declarations which have been available here for some time already and which we invite you to read—if you have not done so already—and, in some cases, to sign. These three declarations share a common theme: the importance of restricting displays of religious symbols in state institutions, especially such symbols worn by public servants while on the job.

  1. The organization Atheist Freethinkers, in partnership with the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (Alliance for Secularism) recently set up a petition to insist that ministers of the federal cabinet refrain from wearing obvious religious symbols while performing their function as representatives of the Canadian state. We invite you to read the text of the petition and to add your own personal signature to it. We also issued a press release on this subject. Finally, if you represent an organization which promotes secularism and you are willing to add the name of your organization to the petition text, we invite you to contact us for that purpose.
  2. In December 2015, AFT adopted a Declaration for a Secular Public Service which expresses our opposition to the wearing of religious symbols by state employees, during their working hours, at all levels of government in Canada, whether federal, provincial or territorial. (Note that this declaration does not deal with the particular case of face-coverings. Please consult Declaration #3 below.) We have obtained the support of several other organizations and their names have been added to the end of the declaration. We invite other associations to add their names as well. Thus, if you represent an organization which promotes secularism and you are willing to add its name as signatory of the declaration, we invite you to contact us for that purpose.
  3. For the particular case of face-coverings, including the infamous niqab, the Board of Directors of AFT took a position in November of 2015 and expressed that position in the article Face-Coverings Must be Banned in All State Institutions. The AFT Board opposes the wearing of face-coverings in that context, first and foremost for reasons of communication and security; furthermore, the Board opposes the granting of any exemption from that rule for religious motives. We are not currently soliciting signatures for this declaration. We invite you to become familiar with it if you have not done so already.

In all the situations covered by the declarations described above, modest and reasonable constraints on religious displays by individuals in specific circumstances are proposed, in particular for public servants, i.e. state employees. This is necessary in order to protect the freedom of conscience of citizens in general. To this end, the state must present an image which is religiously neutral; thus, state representatives must abstain, while on duty, from indulging in religious advertising by displaying any religious affiliation.

We reject the idea that a perfect symmetry exists, in all circumstances, between the decision to wear or not to wear clothing or accessories which exhibit the religious affiliation of the bearer, as if those two choices constituted absolutely equal rights. Such a symmetry may apply in the private sphere as well as in the public sphere outside state institutions. However, within state institutions, especially for public servants, the duty of the state to provide an environment free of religious influence must take precedence.

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