Blog 111: Putting the Brakes On Ideological Pollution

David Rand


Quebec’s Bill 21 does not discriminate against anyone. It excludes no-one. It only excludes a certain behaviour (wearing religious symbols) in some contexts.

Bill 21 is like anti-smoking laws. All are anti-pollution measures. Anti-smoking laws do not discriminate against smokers. They merely ban one behaviour—smoking—in certain places and certain contexts. Neither smokers nor non-smokers are excluded anywhere. Rather, no-one may smoke in places where the smoking ban applies.

Racism is unacceptable because it is a prejudice against a group of persons for what they ARE, for example their ethnicity, for attributes which they cannot change. But one may very legitimately criticize persons, even a group of persons, for what they DO, because they are able to change their behaviour.

If Bill 21 were racist, as its enemies dishonestly assert, then anti-smoking laws would also be “racist” because they would discriminate against smokers, which is false, as I have just explained.

Religious affiliation is not an innate quality of the person. It is an opinion or an ideology. It can be easily changed. But in this debate, we are not even talking about the person’s religious belief or affiliation, but only the way in which that person expresses that belief in some contexts. That is even easier to change! A religious symbol may be easily removed before going to work, without affecting the person’s freedom of religion. Just as a cigarette can be extinguished very easily before entering a restaurant, without affecting the person’s right to smoke elsewhere.

Bill 21, like anti-smoking laws, is an anti-pollution measure whose purpose is to protect public health using a simple and reasonable restriction on polluting behaviour in certain places.

Those who accuse Bill 21 of being “racist” are incompetent in this debate — incompetent to discuss either racism or Bill 21.

Finally, if a person refuses to abstain from smoking in a restaurant, it is not the law which excludes that person, rather that person excludes himself or herself by virtue of his or her unacceptable behaviour. The same applies to a person wearing a religious symbol who refuses to remove it for a job where such symbols are banned. The person is responsible for his/her behaviour, not the law.

There are of course important differences between anti-smoking laws and Bill 21. The latter is much less restrictive than the former. The religious symbol ban applies only to some employees of the state, at work in civic institutions. It does not apply at all to users, nor does it apply to anyone in public outside of civic institutions. (The face-covering ban is wider.) But anti-smoking laws apply to everyone in almost all in-door public places (not just civic institutions), and even outside near their entrances.

Tobacco smoke is physical pollution, filling the air with tiny partially burnt particles which may cause serious lung diseases. Religious symbols are ideological pollution, promoting misogyny, atheophobia, homophobia, sectarian violence and theocracy (and they do so passively, regardless of the mentality of the persons wearing them). Ideologicial pollution is much more insidious than is physical pollution. If any readers are offended by my use of the word “pollution” here, I would remind them that religious symbols are very offensive, just as hurtful as the most odious far-right political symbols.

Any smoker who respects others’ right to clean air will respect anti-smoking bans. Any wearer of religious symbols who respects others’ freedom of conscience, as much as their own, will understand the need for Bill 21 and will respect the religious symbol ban which that bill stipulates.

3 comments on “Blog 111: Putting the Brakes On Ideological Pollution
  1. Pierre Cloutier says:

    100% ok.

  2. Roman Korol says:

    “Religious affiliation is not an innate quality of the person. It is an opinion or an ideology. It can be easily changed”

    David, I suggest this sentence in the 5th paragraph be re-phrased, As it stands, it can be taken to mean that religious belief can be easily changed, which is not the case. That can lead to spurious debate re “belief” which has nothing to do with Bill 21, thus diminishing and side-tracking the focus of your essay.

    • David Rand says:

      Roman, I do not think it necessary to modify that sentence. When I say that a belief can be easily changed, I am comparing it with innate qualities such as “race” or ethnicity which cannot be changed at all! Furthermore, in the very next sentence I go on to say that I am not asking anyone to change their religious belief or affiliation, but “only the way in which that person expresses that belief in some contexts. That is even easier to change!”
      I think this is clear.

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