Blog 133: Is Quebec Bill 21 Discriminatory?

David Rand


If you check the text of Quebec’s Bill 21 (officially named An Act respecting the laicity of the State, where “laicity” is a bad translation and should be “secularism”), you will see that the religious symbol ban applies to all religions and that the religious symbol and face-covering bans apply to everyone, both men and women. Thus, the obvious answer is NO, Bill 21 is certainly not discriminatory.

So why do the opponents of the law constantly denounce it as discriminatory? Are they lying? Yes, they are lying, but there is more to it than that. It is also because Bill 21’s opponents generally have a very different attitude towards religion and religious freedom.

We supporters of Bill 21 agree that religious beliefs are on a par with other opinions, convictions and ideologies, such as political opinions. Thus freedom of religion is placed an a par with other freedoms such as freedom from religion, freedom of political opinion, etc. This means that it is perfectly reasonable to require a civil servant or teacher to show discretion when at work, to avoid explicit expression of political or religious opinion while on the job.

On the other hand, opponents of the law place freedom of religion above other freedoms. This is obvious from their obsession for the freedom of religious expression of State employees while apparently not giving a damn about the freedom of conscience (which includes both freedom of and from religion) of civil service users and schoolchildren.

Consider the situation in schools. It is the freedom of conscience of children which matters and must take precedence in case of conflict, obviously. Schools exist for the education of children, not the employment of teachers. Furthermore, the restriction on teachers affects only their freedom of religious practice—i.e. expression—not their freedom of belief, and only while on the job, a small and reasonable restriction.

This privileging of religious practice has serious consequences. If one places freedom of religion above other freedoms, it amounts to placing religious “obligations” or “laws” above non-religious laws adopted democratically by human beings. (Of course religious “laws” are also adopted by human beings, but non-democratically by a tiny minority of religious authorities, many of whom, but not all, have been dead for centuries, and who arrogantly claim to speak for some divinity.) This habit is known as “reasonable accommodation” and those who support it, as accommodationists. Of course there is nothing reasonable about it. Giving religious “law” priority over the law of the land is the very antithesis of secularism and a characteristic of theocracy. Secularism and theocracy are polar opposites.

Religions generally tend to discriminate against women. In particular, the Abrahamic monotheisms Judaism, Christianity and Islam are very misogynistic and Islam especially is extremely misogynistic. The Islamic veil, which some Muslims (but only very fundamentalist, pious Muslims, even radical) insist all Muslim women must wear, is a tool of sexual segregation and a symbol of the subservience of women. Religions also have a strong tendency to discriminate against each other, often adopting practices for the sole purpose of demarcating or even segregating one group from another (such as dietary rules, dress codes, special schedules, differing definitions of what is sacred, etc.)

Accommodationists hold that these various religious practices and taboos must be accommodated. Religions discriminate against women and against each other and therefore, say the accommodationists, the State must follow suit, by treating women differently from men (allowing them to wear the Islamic veil for example) and by treating differently the adherents of different religions by allowing each group to wear its own symbols.

Canada is a soft theocracy. So-called “reasonable accommodation” is considered an obligation of State and is codified in legislation such as the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. The term “multiculturalism” is a lovely euphemism which in reality masks a policy of cultural relativism and is a throwback to tribalism.

Thus, even though Bill 21 treats all religions and all persons equally, accommodationists hate it for that very reason, because it does not discriminate where, in their opinion, it should. That is what they mean when they accuse Bil1 21 of being discriminatory: the law fails to grant privileges where they think it should in order to accommodate religious practices.

The permission for civil servants to wear religious symbols on the job represents an undue privilege granted to religions, that is to say, an accommodation that is not at all reasonable, an accommodation which the opponents of Bill 21 absolutely want to preserve.

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