Talking about the Proposed Secular Charter

by | February 2, 2014

On Tuesday, January 28, Anna Maria Tremonti from the CBC’s The Current moderated a panel discussion and public forum on “Quebec’s controversial proposed Secular Charter, which has divided Quebeckers and sparked debate across Canada.”


wanted to hear what Quebeckers think of the proposed secular charter and whether it will be good or bad for the province. [CBC] assembled a panel at the Crowley Arts Centre to make the case for and against, and then we opened it up to the audience.

One woman claimed to be very disturbed by a government that tells you how to dress and what to wear. That’s just agitprop! The PQ is not telling people what to wear and what to do; the PQ is telling government employees what to wear when they are at work for the government that pays them a salary.

The audio of the panel discussion and public forum is now available


Caution: The emotive word racist is used with little regard for accuracy.

14 thoughts on “Talking about the Proposed Secular Charter

  1. H. E. (Ernie) Schreiber

    The person making that comment obviously doesn’t know what she is talking about. Nobody is telling anybody what a person is allowed to wear in their private life. When you join the army you are wearing a uniform while working on the job. The same applies to government employees. They should be wearing a uniformm while working at their jobs and that uniform should be prescribed by their employer.

  2. Jim Royal

    It is definitely not agitprop.

    The employer does not have the right to tell the employee what to wear, except when it relates to the functioning of the job. A doctor or nurse must wear scrubs for health and safety reasons. A banker must wear business clothes in order to project an air of competence and trustworthiness. A stock clerk must wear a branded jersey to identify himself as an employee. There is nothing about a headscarf that affects the performance of the job. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

    Look, I get it. I really do understand. As atheists, Bill 60 ought to be candy for us. Its putting religion in its place: in private, out of public view. It’s what we all have clamoured for.

    Except that Bill 60 is very very narrowly targeted. It’s about hijabs. It’s about muslims. It’s not about religion in general. The PQ pretends that this is about secularism, but it’s not. It’s really about assimilation.

    If this bill were about religion in general, then the PQ would also be removing the crucifix from the national assembly, or eliminating the tax-exempt status for churches, or eliminating prayer in town council meetings. If the PQ were doing any one of these things, then Bill 60 would be even-handed. Perhaps it might still be too heavy-handed, but at least it would not be targeting minorities so obviously.

    The only people who regularly wear outwardly-visible religious garb are muslim women. Bill 60 is about them specifically. And that’s not right.

    How do I know that this is not about religion? Because the PQ has a problem: It’s not enough that immigrants coming to Quebec learn to speak French. It’s not enough that they integrate. For the PQ, they must assimilate completely, they must become sovereignists. The birth rate in Quebec is low, and the economy needs immigrants. But people coming from outside Quebec don’t care about the Quiet Revolution. So, the PQ has to do something. Otherwise, the demographics of the situation will ensure that there will never be another referendum again.

    Their solution is to make it uncomfortable here for people who don’t assimilate. The message is clear: Become like us, or leave.

    Bill 60 is very nearly the opposite of secularism. The principle of secularism is that the government takes no role in religion, so that no religion can have a privileged place in society. Yet Bill 60 privileges those with Christian heritage over all others. It treats people of different backgrounds unequally.

    Support for Bill 60 is not support for secularism. It is support for Quebec sovereignty.

    1. Indi

      As atheists, Bill 60 ought to be candy for us. Its putting religion in its place: in private, out of public view. It’s what we all have clamoured for.

      Er, whut? We’ve “clamoured” for the need to hide religion from public view? Since when?

      Most of us aren’t so terrified of religion that we can’t stand the sight of a hijab. We may disagree with a person’s reasons for wearing it, or with the idea of it in general, but I think most atheists would prefer to convince people that it’s a stupid idea by using reasonable arguments… not to use a legislative banhammer to drive it out of our sight.

      1. Jim Royal

        Indi, you and I are in agreement: “…most atheists would prefer to convince people that (religion)s a stupid idea by using reasonable arguments…” Using the power of legislation to change people’s minds about religion is usually counterproductive.

        But as for the clamouring… You know as well as I that prominent people in the atheist community want religion to become invisible. Hitchens said on more than on occasion that he wants religion pushed out of public view where he can’t see it. My raising this point was simply to illustrate to Veronica that I understand her argument even if I disagree with it.

        1. Indi

          Well of course there are people with extremist positions – for an example right in this thread, you can see David Rand – but I don’t think Hitchens’s position was at all well-received. Hitchens’s attitude was very popular amongst atheists, but many of his positions were not, and he especially tended to fly off the rails when Islam came up. I’d point out that Dawkins spoke out against burqa bans, and so has pretty much every atheist and secularist organization in the world, along with most human rights and civil liberties organizations, but for a handful of exceptions.

          Obviously this isn’t an issue that should be decided by popular vote – rights should never be decided by popular vote – but perspective is important in sensitve discussions. It is dangerous to give extremists the impression that their position is widely accepted. Better to state the facts as they are. It is very misleading to describe religious clothing bans as something that “atheists” want. Yes, a small minority want it, but by and large it hasn’t gotten a lot of support from most atheist speakers and writers.

          1. Corwin

            But what distinguishes rights from privileges, preferences, or whatever? I agree with you about the undesirability of legislative banhammers in this case, but attempting to establish “rights” as a special, protected category smacks of superstition.

          2. Indi

            But what distinguishes rights from privileges, preferences, or whatever?

            In a word: reason. Rights arise automatically when you reason about the requirements necessary to create a stable, functioning society. (For example, the right to life: you can’t have a stable, functioning society without a right to not be randomly killed without warning or explanation.)

            … attempting to establish “rights” as a special, protected category smacks of superstition.

            Superstition is the first thing you assume when you encounter something you don’t understand? Does that mean you think quantum chromodynamics is magic?

          3. Corwin

            The problem, though, is that a quick glance around the world or back through history reveals plenty of stable and functioning societies with lists of recognised rights that are very short by modern Canadian standards, or even without any explicit concept of rights at all.

            The right not to be randomly killed without warning or explanation (which is much narrower than the right to life) is one that I would just about accept as a necessary ingredient of any stable and functioning society, but the list of rights that I would assign to that category is pretty darn short. Stable and functioning societies can, after all, have slavery, ritual sacrifice and judicially sanctioned mutilation.

            So I think rights arise from a combination of reason and societal preference, rather than from reason alone. They’re things that nations define and uphold for their own purposes, rather than objective facts like the laws of quantum chromodynamics (whatever that may be, exactly, but I’m guessing it has laws). Canada has its own set of rights defined in law, as Jim Royal points out above, but legally established rights result from human decisions that in many cases could easily have been made differently even at the time. As circumstances and attitudes change, old rights may begin to seem problematic or superfluous and new rights may begin to seem necessary, so rights have to be allowed to evolve. This needn’t involve literally putting rights up for popular vote, but the public ought to have a say through normal democratic mechanisms.

            For the record, I strongly suspect you’re right about the atheist community – surely not too many of us want to push all manifestations and trappings of religion out of the public sphere. However, support for the Charter is pretty high among the Quebec public in general, and it would be interesting to know what the numbers were like among Quebec atheists specifically. And if the Charter passes, I’m pretty sure Quebec will continue to be stable and functioning even in the absence of the right to wear religious headgear while working in the public sector.

          4. Joe

            >For example, the right to life: you can’t have a stable, functioning society without a right to not be randomly killed without warning or explanation.

            And yet, a woman has this right with regards to the fetus in her womb. And I have that right with regards to a variety of animals I might want to hunt and kill. And in some places arbitrary crimes result in death.

            The question is not: what makes a stable society? or what are my requirements for life?

            The question is, why do I deserve to live? Why does a stable human society trump anything?

            We so smart and self-satisfied, even though we are essentially a plague on this planet.

            The answer is egotism. We have evolved to ‘want to live’. It doesn’t come from logic. Whether we want to live or die is not about facts and figures, its about feelings.

            This is why we sacrifice our lives for those we love and why we eat some animals and not others.

            Rights are just privileges we feel strongly that we deserve, for no good reason.

            I am always amused by atheists who dismiss the supernatural but embrace an almost platonic idea of ‘human rights’. Human rights are magic. They don’t exist in any real sense.

            Right and wrong is about feelings. Logic is just.. after the fact justification, to make us feel better.

  3. David Rand

    Thank you Jim Royal for exposing so clearly the real reason for English Canada’s extreme hostility towards Quebec’s proposed charter of secularism.

    If the PQ government were to propose concrete measures to end world poverty, cure all forms of cancer, end nuclear proliferation, resolve the Middle East crisis and provide limitless clean energy to prevent environmental degradation, Jim Royal and his ilk would oppose each and every one of these measures because they come from a Quebec sovereignist party.

    Ignore the fact that several high profile sovereignists oppose the Charter. Ignore the fact that some federalists support the Charter. Ignore the fact that the major federalist party in Quebec, the PLQ, recently come out in support of KEEPING the crucifix in the National Assembly. Ignore what the Charter actually proposes to do.

    The Charter is from the PQ, therefore it must be evil!

    This is the depth of intellectual vacuity which is at the heart of opposition to the Charter.

    1. Jim Royal

      Completely specious argument, David. Your reply is largely ad hominum. You haven’t refuted a single thing I said.

      The PLQ is waffling on Bill 60 because they know that standing against it would be a vote killer outside of Montreal. No other reason.

      You say that some sovereignists oppose the bill while some federalists support it. So what? This is not a rebuttal, either. It suggests that official party policy is the same as groupthink, as we both know that the PQ has always had a fractious internal arguments.

      The fact that your response to my reasoned argument is a non-response, and climaxes with insults toward me, suggests that you are reacting to this issue emotionally and not intellectually.

  4. Bubba Kincaid

    The argument that an employer has a right to dictate his employees attire is false.

    I don’t think we need to trade in our individual and personal rights for some ‘utopian’ vision of compliant robots subservient to the order of employment/economic hierarchy, just to get rid of religion.

    Seems like a bad deal.

    An employer only has the right to dictate an employee’s attire to the extent that the employer can prove that the way an employee is dressed results in a loss of income for the business.

    An argument that simply does not apply to the public sector.

    And that is already close enough to the edge for me, I don’t need a bunch of jerkoffs pushing the edge 100 feet further on down because they think they’re doing everyone a favour.

    Use your head and find another more thoughtful argument.

    Or better yet, find a more refined model of attack, rather than fucking us all over while you’re at it with your whole-hog pogroms.

  5. Stephen

    My biggest problem with the Charter is that it isn’t what you wear, but rather why you wear it. The same woman can wear the same head scarf but if she says it’s religions it’s illegal and if she says it’s not, it’s suddenly legal. It skirts the edge of thought crime.

    Actually worse in my mind is that one woman can wear that head scarf, but another woman isn’t allowed to wear the same scarf – talk about second class designation.


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