This is an English translation of letter sent to Quebec Premier François Legault. You may also consult the original French version.
Monsieur François Legault,
Premier of Quebec
14th January 2019
Re: Secular Schools, an Absolute Priority
We are writing to you as Premier of Quebec and, in particular, as minister responsible for secularism. First of all we would like to congratulate you for your recent electoral victory and especially for your intention, expressed during your inaugural speech of November 28th, to proceed with diligence and firmness in matters of secularism. Furthermore, you certainly have a strong mandate to do so, as your party now holds the majority in the National Assembly and given the recent CROP poll which confirms the population’s solid support for banning religious symbols worn by state employees in positions where they exercise coercion or authority, including public school teachers.
As an organization which defends the rights of atheists, we, Atheist Freethinkers, would like to emphasize that allowing public servants to wear religious symbols constitutes discrimination against atheists, against other non-believers and against those with no reliigous affiliation. Indeed, as we atheists have no such affiliation to display, our appearance is neutral by default. In fact, allowing state employees to display such symbols constitutes a privilege granted to a minority of believers, a minority which is particularly pious, zealous or even fundamentalist, and a form of discrimination against all other individuals, even against those believers who practice their faith privately and without ostentation. It is therefore essential that public servants, especially those in positions of authority, not be allowed to wear religious symbols while on duty.
Banning religious symbols is particularly important where children are involved. Teachers are vehicles for transmitting fundamental societal values and have undeniable moral authority over their pupils throughout the learning process. That is why strict neutrality in religious matters is so important at school. Thus, the establishment of genuine state secularism starts in the schools which must ensure total respect for the freedom of conscience of students and their parents. To do so, teachers must not be allowed the privilege of acting as billboards, advertising their religious beliefs. Furthermore, in our opinion, the same duty of discretion should also apply to childcare workers, laboratory technicians and school administrators. These various categories of school personnel also exercise authority over children and none should be treated differently with respect to secularism.
Still on the topic of secularism in schools, we are particularly preoccupied by a major issue which is not yet included in your plans: the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) programme. You are no doubt aware that this programme, especially its “religious culture” part, has been the target of much legitimate criticism since its inception a decade ago. It presents a caricature of religious practice with an emphasis on more pious and zealous expression, while almost completely neglecting non-believers as well as non-practicing believers and less pious adherents. Just like the wearing of religious symbols, the “religious culture” part of ERC constitutes flagrant discrimination against atheists in schools. A programme which assumes straightaway that every pupil has a religion, or should have one, has no place in the public school system. We therefore ask that your government’s secularism plans include the complete withdrawal of the “religious culture” part of ERC, or simply the withdrawal of the entire ERC programme.
Finally, we are of the opinion that the ban on wearing religious symbols should apply to all employees concerned and not only to those newly hired, in order to avoid unequal treatment.
Please be assured, Prime Minister, of our cooperation. Along with a large majority of the Quebec population, we wholeheartedly desire significant progress towards further secularization.
President, Atheist Freethinkers
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