Our Approach to Bill 21
See also our Press Release, 2020-09-16
Our Intervention has been Accepted!
Our request to intervene in the case of I. N. HAK et al. against the Attorney-General of Quebec has been accepted by the Quebec Superior Court. We, Atheist Freethinkers, will therefore intervene as a friend before the court, in support of Bill 21 and in support of secularism.
The proceedings will last five weeks, from November 2nd to December 7th 2020, at the Montreal Palais de Justice (Court House). It is expected that AFT’s submission will be heard some time between the 2nd and 7th of December. The exact date is not yet known but will be announced here as soon as it is.
AFT considers Bill 21 to be landmark legislation, an historic step forward for secularism. Although its provisions are modest—its ban on religious symbols applies to only part of the civil service and, furthermore, it does not end the considerable fiscal privileges currently enjoyed by religious institutions—the law nevertheless places Quebec in the vanguard of the fight for secularism in the world. In light of its affirmation of State secularism, its insertion of that principle in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, as well as its concern for the freedom of conscience of school students and civil service users, Bill 21 is momentous legislation. As secularists, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure that this law is neither repealed nor weakened by the adversaries of fundamental freedoms and of secularism.
AFT’s argumentation will centre on the primacy of freedom of conscience, which include both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. As atheists, we welcome the objective, expressed through Bill 21, to end certain religious privileges. Indeed, to allow civil servants and schoolteachers to indulge in ideological displays while on the job, simply because their ideology is religious, constitutes an unjustifiable privilege for religions. The consequences of this privilege are (1) infringement of the freedom of conscience of users of social services and of students in public schools, by exposing them to passive proselytism and indoctrination which these partisan religious manifestations represent; and (2) discrimination againsts atheists and other non-believers in their relations with the state. It is therefore imperative that State representatives refrain from wearing religious symbols in order to put an end to this discriminatory privilege.
The organization AFT is opposed to religious indoctrination, especially of children, and considers that the exclusion of religious symbols from areas under State authority (including public schools) constitutes the only socially viable approach. It holds that legislation should not protect religions in any way different from or superior to other systems of value.
AFT will put before the Court an interpretation of freedom of conscience which subsumes the internal dimension of religious freedoms, the right to apostasy and the right to be free from religion. AFT will propose a conception of freedom of religion which, in its exterior dimension, i.e. external manifestations, is limited to freedom of expression only.
In addition to the plaintiff Ichrak N. Hak, the intervenors who oppose Bill 21 are numerous and receive financing from private funds and some from public funds:
- Mme Amrit Kaur
- Mme Andréa Lauzon
- Mme Hakima Dadouche
- Mme Bouchera Chelbi
- Mme Mubeenah Mughal
- M. Pietro Mercuri
- National Council of Canadian Muslims
- English Montreal School Board
- World Sikh Organization of Canada
- Corporation of the Canadian Civil Liberties Associations
- Amnistie internationale section Canada francophone
- Commission canadienne des droits de la personne
- Quebec Community Groups Network
- Association de droits Lord Reading
- Comité juridique de la Coalition inclusion Québec
- Fédération autonome de l‘enseignement
- L’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada
In addition to the respondent, the Attorney-General of Quebec, there are only three modest associations intervening in favour of Bill 21, staffed by volunteers and possessing limited resources and means:
- Us: Atheist Freethinkers (AFT)
- Le Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ)
- Pour les droits des femmes du Québec (PDF-Québec)
Can You Help?
We seek the support and solidarity of anyone who, like us, supports secularism and recognizes the landmark importance of Bill 21 and the necessity of defending it against the well-funded and reactionary forces who are attempting to turn back the tide of secularization of the Quebec State. If you have not already done so, please consider making a donation to our legal fund so that we may complete this process. Any amount, big or small, is welcomed and appreciated.