David Rand, Réal Boivin, Pierre Thibault
Libres penseurs athées—Atheist Freethinkers, Association intervening in the case Hak versus AGQ
In the Same Series:
- What Was Left Unsaid at the Trial of Bill 21
- Does the EMSB Condone Child Abuse? (THIS PAGE)
- Oral Arguments of AFT—Courtroom Log of Hak versus AGQ
- An Orgy of Hateful Hyperbole—Courtroom Log: Week 5
- Courtroom Log: Week 4
- Courtroom Log: Week 3
- Courtroom Log: Week 2
- Courtroom Log: Week 1
Court proceedings contesting An Act respecting the laicity of the State (Bill 21) have drawn to a close, although the judge’s decision is still months away, at winter’s end at the earliest. However the various testimonies and oral arguments have left us with much food for thought.
On December 8th, Maître Perri Ravon presented her oral arguments as lawyer for the English Montreal School Board or EMSB. Her principal line of attack against Bill 21 was to assert that the Quebec anglophone community differs fundamentally from the francophone majority not only in terms of language, but also by virtue of its culture based on multiculturalism which is incompatible with Bill 21. Indeed, all nine English-language school boards in Quebec oppose the Bill. Maître Ravon thus echoed the words of her colleague Maître Jennifer Klink (also representing the EMSB) who explained that “open secularism” has deep roots in anglophone culture, as well as those of Julius Grey (for the Quebec Community Groups Network or QCGN) who, a week before, had pointed out that anglophones reject republican secularism.
The basic idea, therefore, was to demand exceptional treatment for the English-speaking community because of its distinct approach to secularism. The hypocrisy of this stance is obvious. The opponents of Bill 21 sought to minimize the distinct nature of Quebec, not only its language but also its culture, in the Canadian federation, precisely in order to deny its right to a version of secularism different from that of the rest of Canada.
Nevertheless, this hypocrisy is not the main subject to be discussed here. Instead, let us consider how Maître Ravon describes this secularism which she considers to be so “open,” this openness of the EMSB to sacrosanct diversity—a diversity which turns out to be religious first and foremost. According to Maître Ravon, “Bill 21 sends a message of intolerance and exclusion.” while “open secularism has such deep roots in the anglophone community.” As she made this declaration, she emphasized the words “such deep roots” with considerable emotion, bordering on wonderment.
In the course of her eloquent oration, Maître Ravon provided several examples of the wonderful religious practices facilitated by the EMSB among its pupils, including:
- Ramadan, a month-long period during which observant Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset;
- the assigning of space for prayers on school property;
- depriving children of exposure to music because it is considered incompatible with the Islam of their parents;
- the wearing of religious symbols by school personnel and, perhaps, by pupils as well;…
A few observations are in order here. First of all, most of these examples involve a single religion, Islam. Where the heck is the “diversity” in that? Secondly, Maître Ravon made no effort to distinguish between the religious affiliation of parents and that of their children, which in itself is unacceptable. To label a child with the religion of his or her parents is to neglect completely the freedom of conscience of that child. Until he or she reaches the age of majority, no child should be burdened with a label of religious membership.
However, what is seriously disturbing about the examples above is the treatment that some children endure for the sole reason of their parents’ religion. Does the EMSB deprive some pupils of music appreciation because of their parents’ religion? Even worse, does the EMSB deprive some children of meals because their parents want them to follow Ramadan? Does the EMSB accept that very young girls wear the Islamic veil? In each of these cases, we are dealing with something disturbingly close to child abuse. In the case of Ramadan and of a child wearing the veil for an extended period (weeks or more), it is indeed child abuse. Would the school board condone such differential treatment of pupils for non-religious reasons? On what basis can such treatment be justified for religious reasons and, if so, what indeed are the limits?
Have we misunderstood Maître Ravon’s explanations? Perhaps the school board only facilitates certain religious practices without imposing them. But even it that were true, we are dealing with young children who are easily influenced and lack the maturity necessary to take informed decisions. Indeed, it is precisely for that reason that it is unacceptable to label a child with the religion of his or her parents. Any version of secularism worthy of the name would prevent such blunders.
There was in Maître Ravon’s dissertation a considerable dose of arrogance. Listening to her, one could sense the pride she felt in belonging to such an “open” community. But that pride was in fact a mask which covered her smugness, her feeling of superiority and her hostility towards the values of Quebec francophones whom she apparently considers to be intolerant and xenophobic. As an anglophone myself (D.R.), I am disgusted by the pettiness and intolerance of the EMSB and its lawyers.
All in all, Maîtres Klink and Ravon revealed that the EMSB administration has an attitude of alarming and foolish complacency with respect to dubious religious practices. They apparently accept such practices readily, uncritically and indiscriminately. Ramadan in particular should be discouraged, even among adults, especially those who work in a context where concentration and alertness are important. For children, Ramadan is even more ill-advised. If the EMSB were to learn of the marriage of a 14-year-old girl, would they inform Child Protection Services (Direction de la protection de la jeunesse DPJ) or, on the contrary, would they consider this to be acceptable for children from a religious minority?
Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the purpose of all these religious observances, which are of no real value for the person who practises them, is to separate adherents of one religion from everyone else. In other words, the goal is religious segregation. The main effect of these practises is to consolidate the power of religious authorities.
In summary, Maîtres Klink and Ravon have demonstrated that so-called “open” secularism is in fact the anti-secularism of the 21st century. They have also presented a convincing argument that the wearing of religious symbols is an effective means of proselytizing children with the goal of converting them to this anti-secular ideology. Thus, the necessity of Bill 21.