Publication Date: 2023-11-04
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This declaration is also available in French.
We, the undersigned, are secularists from various countries. The secularism which we advocate must include the basic principle of separation between religion and State. In State institutions, laws adopted by humans must take precedence over any laws alleged to emanate from some divine authority. Thus, we support republican secularism which asserts that religious influence is unacceptable in State institutions. The State must neither impose nor persecute any religion.
In particular, we maintain that the secular State must be empowered to ban its employees—civil servants—from wearing religious symbols while on the job. The State must also apply a similar ban to public school teachers and other school personnel, including child-care centre personnel. State employees must adopt an attitude of restraint, refraining from expression of partisan religious beliefs, just as they must refrain from expressing any personal political or philosophical convictions, while acting as agents of the State or teachers of children, in order to protect the freedom of conscience of users of civil services, pupils in public schools and children in child-care centres. To behave otherwise is unprofessional.
Allowing civil servants, public-school personnel or child-care personnel to wear religious symbols on the job constitutes an obvious violation of the separation principle and represents an implicit endorsement by the State of the religion associated with the symbol. It also constitutes a religious privilege granted by the State, allowing the employee to indulge in religious advertising and proselytism. It would allow religious fundamentalists to further their political agenda, imposing their practices on others, whether of the same religion or a different one. This is especially true when the State employee has significant authority, whether coercive, as a judge or police officer, or moral, as a teacher of young children.
The secular State is not responsible for accommodating the personal religious practices of its employees. The duties of such employees must take precedence. There is no reason a religious symbol cannot simply be removed during working hours if the employees wish to wear such symbols when they are not on the job. If religious believers consider that they are obligated to wear some religious symbol, that obligation is obviously imposed by religious authorities. Thus, if the State allows civil servants, public-school personnel or child-care personnel to wear religious symbols while on the job, then the State is capitulating to those self-appointed religious authorities. This is unacceptable for religion-State separation.
Banning civil servants and public-school and child-care centre employees from wearing religious symbols while on duty has no effect whatsoever on their freedom of belief. Only the freedom of religious practice is affected, and only while the employee is on the job. Wearing a religious symbol is a practice, not a belief.
Furthermore, if political symbols are banned but religious symbols are not, then this constitutes an egregious privilege for religious expression over political expression.
It is especially unacceptable to allow schoolteachers and child-care personnel to wear blatant religious symbols while teaching, thus tolerating religious proselytism, passive or active, directed at vulnerable children. Teachers are educators and role models for children who are more vulnerable to indoctrination than adults. They are particularly vulnerable if the symbol worn is of the same religion as the pupil’s parents, because the school and child-care environment should be a periodic refuge from any ideological constraints imposed within the family. Schools and child-care centres—at a minimum, those that receive State funding—should also be free from any control by ideologies, religious or otherwise.
We explicitly reject and denounce the chauvinistic and tendentious attitude of those who foolishly denigrate secularism as implemented in France, the one country where secularism has made the most progress, and which religious fanatics have targeted in their endeavour to roll back secularism, in order to maintain and expand their religious privileges.
We explicitly reject and denounce the bigoted attitude of those who vilify the Québécois for supporting legislation—Loi sur la laïcité de l’État or An Act respecting the laicity of the State, also known as “Bill 21”—which bans the wearing of religious symbols by civil servants in positions of authority. In particular, we condemn the hypocrisy of those organizations which falsely claim to be secular while opposing religion-State separation in the very jurisdiction, Quebec, where secularism is making the greatest progress in North America.
- Atheist Freethinkers, Canada
- Kazimierz Łyszczyński Foundation, Poland
- Secular Association of NSW, Australia
- Alliance of Former Muslims, Ireland
- Rassemblement pour la laïcité, Quebec
- Arif Hussain Theruvath, President of Non-Religious Citizens (NRC), India
Would your organization like to endorse this declaration? We are looking for associations, internationally, who would be interested in signing. You can reach us via this on-line form.