“Secularism Betrayed: A Summary”

Guest post by David Rand

This is a summary of the three-part series of blogs “Secularism Betrayed” available on my website: David Rand’s Blog:

In late 2013, the government of Quebec introduced major draft legislation — a Charter of Secularism — which would have formally and officially declared Quebec to be secular. Unfortunately the proposed legislation died when that government was defeated in an election in April of 2014. One might assume that all those who claim to favour secularism would have supported it, and this is indeed what occurred inside Quebec. But not outside. Indeed, two ostensibly secular organizations even went so far as to oppose the Charter publicly. This is the story of that shameful betrayal.

The Charter

The Charter or Bill 60 formally declared separation between religion and state including the religious neutrality and secular nature of that state; it imposed on public servants a duty of discretion with regard to religion; it reaffirmed gender equality; and it established guidelines to regulate “reasonable” accommodations which in the past had resulted in granting privileges to religious groups. The bill represented a further step forward in Quebec’s half-century long secularization process and was enthusiastically (but not uncritically) supported by a broad-based coalition of organizations.

The Charter was not perfect: for example, it did not end public funding of private schools and fiscal advantages to religions; nor did it ban prayers at municipal council meetings; nor did it revise the pro-religious Ethics and Religious Culture program taught in Quebec’s public schools. Nevertheless, as a quasi-constitutional document, it established principles which would have greatly facilitated future secular measures such as these.

The Reaction

Secularism is very popular among Quebeckers and this was reflected in strong support for the Charter. The media, however, were often spectacularly hostile. The most vociferous opposition came from multiculturalists and from a small but very vocal gang of Islamists who pretended to speak for all Muslims. In reality, many persons from a Muslim background were sympathetic to the Charter.

The positive-sounding concept “multiculturalism” should more accurately be described as “ethnoreligious determinism” — i.e. religion as destiny — because it is an ideology which gives religious privilege priority over universal values by tightly associating each ethnic community with a particular religious identity and labelling members of that community with the associated belief system.

The most controversial aspect of the Charter was the ban on public servants wearing conspicuous religious symbols while on duty. Yet, there already exist regulations requiring that Quebec public servants refrain from obvious partisan political displays while on the job. The new ban would have been a reasonable extension of that existing rule, given the partisan and often political nature of religious symbols, a modest constraint on freedom of expression for state employees during working hours. Ostentatiously displaying one’s political or religious affiliation while on duty as a public servant must be considered a privilege, not a right, a privilege which may legitimately be restricted in the interest of state neutrality.

Opponents of secularism — giving religion priority over fundamental freedoms and confusing race with religion as multiculturalists regularly do — condemned this ban as a serious threat to freedom of religion and a vehicle to persecute ethnic minorities. Indeed, opposition was so extreme that it sunk into defamatory language, accusing secularists of xenophobia, racism and similar epithets, thus demonizing any support for a republican form of secularism.

Independence and Separatism

The government which proposed the Charter of Secularism was that of the Parti Québécois (PQ), a party which promotes the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada. The PQ is a centre-left formation with social-democratic leanings, one of the more progressive major political parties anywhere in Canada and certainly the most secular. It first came to power in 1976, has been elected government several times and has held and lost two referenda on Quebec sovereignty. Over time the PQ has become rather mainstream, its independence project becoming increasingly hypothetical. Nevertheless, it continues to generate among many Canadians enormous anxiety and hostility which were expressed with a vengeance during the Charter controversy.

The question of Quebec independence is of no relevance for secularism. But in the context of the proposed Charter, secularists were unavoidably confronted with the conflation of the two issues, especially since within Quebec there are many who support both. Even if one considers the idea of Quebec independence to be unrealistic, utopian, dangerous or even reprehensible, it is NOT racist, xenophobic, fascist nor any of a myriad of similar colourful adjectives used rather too often by those too lazy to attempt a rational response. Such fanatical language is simply defamation and ethnic bigotry directed against French-speaking Quebeckers.

Thus, for those who are secularists first and foremost, it was essential to evaluate the Charter on its own merits, regardless of the independence question.

The Left, the Right and Secularism

The waters were further muddied by the disturbing behaviour in recent years of some left-wing organizations which have abandoned the left’s traditional support for secularism in order not to offend “anti-imperialist” elements which are often Islamist. This has created a political vacuum from which some opportunistic right-wing elements, such as the Front National in France, have benefited by adopting a popular pro-secular veneer hiding an anti-immigrant or pro-Christian agenda. The result is not only a gain for the political right, but, even worse, an opportunity for anti-secularists to misrepresent and slander secularists by associating us with a far-right agenda.

This complex question cannot be described by only two positions, when in reality there is a wide diversity including at least the following: (1) traditionalists who oppose secularism and support the dominant religion; (2) multiculturalists, i.e. ethnoreligious determinists or pseudo-secularists who would extend religious privileges to a plurality of religions; and (3) secularists who supported the Charter, oppose religious privilege and promote universal values regardless of religious tenets.

The Rest Of Canada

In Canada outside Quebec, media hostility to the Charter was even more virulent than within. Building on hatred of Quebec separatists, all-too-familiar accusations of intolerance and identity politics were freely recycled to denounce the bill. Nevertheless, a survey conducted in the summer of 2013 indicated that 43% of Canadians approved of the Quebec Charter and, ahortly before the election, three secular organizations outside Quebec expressed some support for the Charter.

However, two organizations with pretentions of representing secularists across Canada took a very different approach. Both CFI Canada (CFIC) and the Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA) opposed the Charter, foolishly dismissing it as either “anti-religious” or unnecessary, arrogantly ignoring the history and accumulated expertise of Quebec secularists and failing to recognize the Charter’s implications for future secularization.

An Historic Opportunity Squandered

The results of the April 7th 2014 Quebec election were a resounding defeat for the Parti Québécois. Although this spelled death for the Charter of Secularism, analyses of voting demographics indicate that it was the PQ’s sovereignty plans and not the Charter which the electorate rejected.

If those who purport to support secularism had in fact done so, it might not have been enough to change the results. Nevertheless, by behaving like mindless conformists and joining their voices to the din of vilification, pseudo-secularists have deepened confusion in the minds of Canadians about the issue of secularism. An historic opportunity has been squandered. The proposed Charter was an exceptional opportunity which, if adopted, would have significantly advanced the cause of secularism. At this critical moment, when their support was needed the most, pseudo-secularists betrayed their espoused principles and took a stance in favour of religious privilege.

If one thinks that wearing blatant religious symbols on the job in the public service is a right, then one can have no objection to the wearing of political symbols too, up to and including symbols of even the most deadly political ideologies. If one nevertheless continues to insist that the ban was excessive, then the only acceptable position for a secularist to have taken would be one of critical support. But CFIC and CSA did not do even that. They simply rejected the Charter out of hand.

While the recent electoral defeat of the Parti Québécois marks a major setback for the independence movement, in the short term at least, nevertheless the Charter controversy has underlined those qualities which make Quebec unique within Canada, in particular, popular support for a republican form of secularism. During the Charter fiasco, Charter opponents maligned one of the best ideas ever to come out of that province mainly because it was proposed by a separatist government and have thus strengthened the independence movement in the long term.

The Arrogance of Victory

With the defeat of the Charter they hated, anti-secularists, including Islamists, are currently displaying the arrogance of victory.

During the election campaign, philosopher, PQ candidate and award-winning expert on secularism Louise Mailloux was vilified for having written in one of her books that forced circumcision for religious reasons and forced baptism are violations of the freedom of conscience of children. But Mailloux’s declaration is obviously valid and in line with observations secularists have been making for years. Islamists have filed several SLAPP-style lawsuits aimed at silencing secularists. Mme Mailloux and two pro-secular web sites are currently being sued by a veil-wearing Charter opponent, Dalila Awada, for “defamation” because they alleged that Awada promotes fundamentalism. Djemila Benhabib, also an author and award-winning secularist, is being sued by a Muslim school for criticizing their program of indoctrination.

Perhaps even more disturbing is a recent proposal put forward by the Quebec Human and Youth Rights Commission (CDPDJ) that a new provision be added to the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms prohibiting hate speech. This could seriously compromise freedom of expression by effectively instituting an anti-blasphemy law at the provincial level, when what is needed is to repeal the existing federal law.

Quebec now has a government which took an explicitly anti-secular position — opposing the Charter and maintaining the crucifix in the Quebec National Assembly (the PQ wavered on this) — and was brought to power by a dubious alliance of those who said the Charter was not secular enough, those who conflate religion with race, those who promote religious privilege, and even fundamentalists.

Quebec secularists continue to organise. The future promises to be difficult, tumultuous and fascinating.


Since the depressing events described in the above article, there have been two important developments, one of which is cause for great optimism, the other for renewed pessimism.

Firstly, the Supreme Court of Canada decision of April 15, 2015 forbade the practice of prayer at Saguenay city council meetings and, by extension, implies that all municipalities which engage in this practice are violating the freedom of conscience of anyone who does not adhere to the religion expressed by the prayer. Furthermore, it asserts that “state officials, in the performance of their functions” when they “profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others” are unacceptably discriminating on the basis of religion. The decision therefore supports the duty of discretion, imposed on public servants when on the job, included in the PQ’s Charter. It also states that “Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals” but this applies to individuals who are “private players.” Thus, public employees must be neutral when on duty, because they are the state when they are working. The state has no existence except through its agents.

Secondly, the current Liberal government of Quebec has recently proposed legislation dealing with “religious neutrality” (Bill 62). However, this draft legislation covers almost nothing that the PQ’s Charter did, has all the shortcomings of the latter and practically none of its advantages. Bill 62 does not even mention secularism or separation between religion and state. It does little more than ban face-coverings in the public service. Even worse is draft Bill 59, released on the same day, whose declared purpose is to combat “hate speech” and grants new sweeping powers to the CDPDJ, powers which, as feared, threaten freedom of expression, especially criticism of religion. Finally, an action plan put forward by the government to counter “radicalization” fails to address the problem of Islamist rhetoric which nourishes jihadism.

20 thoughts on ““Secularism Betrayed: A Summary”

  1. This is a very important essay/report. All the ideas in this report have to be kept before us on continual basis from now on. To do this each of the ideas has to composed as a separate epigram and then released on a continual basis. Those who are familiar with the multicultural-secular divide will have no problem digesting the whole piece. However, the majority of Canadians are not even aware that practicing multiculturalism has dire consequences.

  2. I completely disagree with this piece. The Quebec government is secular, this charter was about limiting freedom of expression and, arguably, freedom of religion for some employees. People should be allowed to wear whatever they want unless there is a legitimate reason to curb that freedom.

    In employment this freedom may be very stringently curtailed and for legitimate reasons. We have uniforms and dress codes. Let us be clear, the Charter did not prohibit public employees from wearing religious symbols, but only conspicuous ones and it drew the line on conspicuous in a very odd way. Christians were allowed to wear a small cross, but a head scarf or yamulka was prohibited. Moreover, the legislature was allowed to maintain a giant cross prominently displayed. Why? Because this legislation was not a charter of Secular values, but of Quebec values. And Christianity, Catholicism has a privileged place in Quebec history.

    People warring conspicuous religious objects is different than a bi-law requiring a prayer. And if is different than people wearing partisan political symbols. The difference is how does the reasonable person view someone wearing the symbol? If you are getting your health card renewed and your attendant is wearing a head scarf, do you conclude that the government of Quebec has taken a position in favour of Islam? Only where such symbols gain a prominence that calls neutrality into question should the state intervene. And we have to consider the full context of this. We have constitutional legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of religion. You and I may not like that, but it is the law, and it is the very law that struck down Sunday closing legislation. When you tell a Sikh that he can no longer work there if he doesn’t remove his turban, you really are telling hi he needs to choose between his religion and his job. We may agree that he shouldn’t value his religion as much as his job, or that he should give up his religion entirely. But the way to get there is to show him the weaknesses of his religious belief, not to hold his job hostage to that question. Freedom of religion is a very weak right which is countered by any significant infringement of the rights of others. The Quebec charter failed to address any significant infringement of the rights of others.

    The wearing of partisan political symbols, is I suggest different. If I go to get my license renewed and see someone wearing a party’s badge I certainly would question whether this agency was neutral to this question. I may be wrong on this, I which case maybe they should allow such expression. But I really don’t think the two are really comparable.

    I think CFIC and CSA were right to denounce the legislation.

    • The problem with allowing religious dress and jewelry to be worn by civil servants is the various religious bases will use this method to advertise their community strength and influence. It’s like crucifixes in an emergency ward. They’re there to tell you who is really in charge.

      With so much turmoil in the world, over religious affiliation, our society must demonstrate to its citizens, especially those who are under religious pressure to conform to various religious gangs, that they don’t have to be afraid, in this country, to choose for themselves.

      • I think there is a big difference between displaying a crucifix in an emergency ward and allowing a clerk working there to keep her cross pendant. The former says “this institution I’d Christian” which I think is out of bounds and would make me feel excluded and marginalized. The latter says “I am a Christian” that doesn’t make me feel excluded.

        But the larger problem with such rules is the exclusion of dress that believers sincerely believe is necessary for them to wear. Sure this may be something of a promotion, but I think is is much more of a sign of their devotion and faith. I don’t for a second think that if you forced them to stop wearing these it would change their attitudes, and I don’t at all feel excluded by seeing them or that the agency is not neutral on issues of religion. How could an agency that allows all reasonable faith symbols including atheist ones, be favouring a religion or religion over atheism?

        • B.Green Adams

          Try wearing this t-shirt to work or in public and let us know what happens: https://www.wordans.com/stop+faithbased+bigotry+tshirts

          • There is an important difference between a shirt like that (or any piece of clothing making a political statement) and a hijab or dastar. It is a difference that is often glossed over or straight-up lied about by people who support laws like the ones central to the former “Charter of Québec Values”.

            You *chose* to wear that shirt. You were under no obligation by anyone – not even your core beliefs, which are protected under the Charter – to wear that shirt. That shirt happens to align with your protected beliefs, and it happens to advocate them. But nothing in those beliefs *obligates* you to wear that shirt. You just did it either on a whim, or to promote an agenda – and the workplace is not the place to do that.

            People who wear clothing dictated by the tenets of their religion did *not* choose to wear their headscarfs/turbans/kippahs/whatever. *Their* protected core beliefs mandate that they *have* to wear those items. They did put them on on a whim, or to promote a political agenda. (In fact, quite the opposite, most would rather not be made a political spectacle of.) They put them on because their core beliefs require them to.

            There are many dishonest writers – including the author of this post – who try to paint wearing a religious accessory as a voluntary choice, or as an act of political activism (such as calling it “obvious partisan political displays”). That is patent bullshit. It is not the same thing. The mere act of wearing a symbol that is politically controversal is *not* a political act, if you have other non-political reasons for wearing it – which you don’t in the case of the shirt, but religious people do in the cases of their headgear. A Sikh wearing a turban is no more an act of activism for Sikhism, than a person who lost an eye wearing an eye patch is an act of activism for 16th century piracy on the high seas.

            Furthermore, even though it doesn’t seem to have sunk in with some of the loudest agitators for the “Charter of Québec Values”, the Supreme Court in MLQ v Saguenay effectively vetoed the whole idea of discriminating against religious groups like that. They said, in as clear terms as possible, that the *state* and its institutions should be secularized… not the citizens. As it should be. Get the crosses and such crap out of government institutions, yes… but the government does not lay claim over the bodies of the people who happen to work for it.

          • “People who wear clothing dictated by the tenets of their religion did *not* choose to wear their headscarfs/turbans/kippahs/whatever.”

            That is the fricking point no choice, and any religious garb is also a political statement, such as on the status of women.

          • I wouldn’t wear such a t-shirt in my workplace, or in general. Though not necessarily wrong, I think it sends a message that all people of faith are bigots and I don’t share that view. In the same way that “stop atheist sexism” or “stop Arab terrorism” would be a problem.

            Such blunt messages that target groups are too easily be misinterpreted and tend to poison work environments. I would say there are legitimate reasons to prohibit them at work.

  3. tl/dr: Islamophobia Ftw

  4. Indi says

    “the Supreme Court in MLQ v Saguenay effectively vetoed the whole idea of discriminating against religious groups like that. They said, in as clear terms as possible, that the *state* and its institutions should be secularized… not the citizens.”

    If Indi has a passage from MLQ v Saguenay to support his statement above, I’d like to see it.

    Indi fails to distinguish between citizens on the one hand and state/government employees on duty on the other hand.

    The Supreme Court was very careful about distinguishing between private citizens and employees of the state. The Court says that the latter must show neutrality because they are the state.

    Please see section [72] of MLQ v Saguenay http://is.gd/OFYEB2

    “the evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non‑belief (S.L., at para. 32). It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.”

    • > If Indi has a passage from MLQ v Saguenay to support his statement above, I’d like to see it.

      Oh, absolutely. I could pick out several, and I will when I have a moment to go through the ruling again. (I might not have time until the weekend.)

      But cherry-picking sentences and quoting them without the encompassing context makes it far too easy to warp the real meaning of the ruling. I have been doing research for a series of posts on MLQ v Saguenay… going *right* back to the original Tribunal ruling (and before!). The SCC ruling has to be read in context of the entire case, because that’s ultimately what Gascon is talking in terms of.

      And when you look at the whole context, there is no more vagueness. The idea of banning all signs of religion from the public sphere is actually explicitly raised (*long* before the Charter of Values came along), and totally rejected at every level. Gascon doesn’t even really mention it all that much explicitly – only via jargon and passing references – because it was completely ruled out from the start. Which is why if you *just* read the SCC ruling, it isn’t as blatantly obvious at it is if you read the entire judicial history.

      > The Supreme Court was very careful about distinguishing between private citizens and employees of the state.

      No, it really wasn’t. That’s a fiction invented by Rand, and supported by hilariously dishonest quoting tactics (which I can cheerfully document in detail if you don’t believe me – I mean, there are some *real* whoppers there). Nowhere in the SCC ruling – or *any* of the previous rulings, for that matter – did they distinguish between “employees of the state” and “private citizens”. I’ve read them all, in English and French, and it just ain’t in there.

      The *only* times there is any kind of distinction made in the SCC ruling is when Gascon’s talking about state officials acting as agents of a *STATE* religion… *not* state officials (or other government employees) expressing their own private religious beliefs. In other words, a Muslim MLA wearing a hijab? Not a problem; she is not engaging in the expressing of a state religion (and also not discriminating against anyone else – which is the second criterion that is too often ignored). A Muslim MLA leading a Buddhist prayer to open the legislature? Problem; she is the agent of a state religious practice (the Buddhist prayer that opens the legislature). And note, her *private* religion is ultimately irrelevant.

      (And it boggles my mind why this formulation isn’t already obvious to everybody. Opening government meetings with a Catholic prayer is wrong even if the official leading it is an atheist. Opening meetings with an official recognition of someone who did something noteworthy for the city (for example) is okay even if the official doing it is a Catholic. It doesn’t matter what the *private* beliefs of the state official are, all that matters is whether they are (giving the impression of) expressing an official religious position of THE STATE. The Charter still lets them have, and express, private religious beliefs; you don’t lose that freedom when you take a government job.)

      As I mentioned, I’m planning a series where I go into deep, deep detail of the MLQ v Saguenay ruling – covering its whole journey through the judicial system (and other stuff besides that). Eventually I *will* get to a post where I explain – in glorious and fractal detail – *EXACTLY* what kind of secularism the SCC ruling has enshrined in Canada, backed up with evidence front to back. (If you want a preview of what each of the MLQ v Saguenay posts will look like, they will be roughly similar in size to the Chevalier de la Barre posts going live on Canada Day. These will be *meaty* posts, with lots of analysis.) If you’re willing to wait for that, it might take a few months. But if you want a quick answer, I can hammer a summary together by this weekend.

      But at any rate, whether I do the summary or not, I’ll give you a passage or two from Gascon to back up what I’ve said by the weekend.

      • “If you’re willing to wait for that, it might take a few months. But if you want a quick answer, I can hammer a summary together by this weekend.”

        I’m willing to wait. I don’t want a quick answer; I want a complete and fully supported answer.

  5. Thanks to Tim Underwood for summing up very succinctly two key points I made in my article:
    (i) Multiculturalism is incompatible with secularism; and
    (ii) When religious “gangs” who promote obvious symbols try to occupy public spaces, including state institutions, with as many symbols as possible, their goal is to show “who is really in charge,” to show that they “own” that space so to speak. This is a form of proselytizing — not to convert individuals, but to convert spaces and societies gradually.

    Opponents of the Quebec Charter of Secularism regularly employed several dishonest tactics, and evidently they are still doing it.

    One tactic is to neglect systematically the important distinction between private citizens on the one hand and state employees on duty on the other. The Charter was very clear about that distinction, and so was the Supreme Court decision of 2015-04-15. For example, in paragraph 119 of the decision we read “the same restrictions do not apply to the exercise by state officials of their own freedom of conscience and religion when they are not acting in an official capacity.” In other words, when they ARE acting in an official capacity, there are restrictions. See also http://blog.davidrand.ca/secularism-betrayed-epilogue/

    Another dishonest — even defamatory — tactic is to accuse Charter supporters of “Islamophobia” or worse. As Tim U. pointed out, the purpose of restricting religious symbols worn by state employees on duty is “to demonstrate to its citizens, especially those who are under religious pressure to conform to various religious gangs, that they don’t have to be afraid, in this country, to choose for themselves.” A space where religious symbols are banned is a space of freedom and refuge. This is why it is so important that teachers in public schools not be allowed to wear religious garb when on duty. If those who spew gratuitous accusations of “Islamophobia” really cared about the freedoms of Muslims or anyone else, they would have supported the ban contained in the Charter.

    • Secularism is not state-atheism.
      Secularism is not parochial tribal/nationalism.

      Secularism is perfectly compatible with Canadian multicultralism, as both are designed to keep ONE ideological/cultural group from dominating/oppressing all the others in our society of many.

      The last century has shown how nationalism and state enforced ideology fails, tragically.

      Fortunately in Canada we have freedom of expression guarranteed by the Canadian Charter, meaning the right to wear silly hats is guarranteed, but also means that all the narrowminded people who seek to deny folks the right to wear silly hats, can out themselves as the narrowminded bigots that they are, for all to see.

      Always good to know who the nutjobs are.
      Long live Multiculturalism and Secularism!
      Long live Canada!

      Silly hats for all!!

      • “Secularism is not state-atheism.”

        That’s too bad; I’d vote for it.

        “Secularism is perfectly compatible with Canadian multicultralism”

        No it isn’t; multiculturalism is an experiment that failed.

        “Silly hats for all!!”

        Surely, you mean dunce hats

        And finally, yes, it’s always good to know who the nut-jobs are.

  6. Alright, so, as promised, here are some quotes from the MLQ v Saguenay ruling that back up my claim that a religious accessories ban for public sector employees has been ruled out. Let me make it clear, though, that cherry-picking quotes – even when you take the surrounding context into account – isn’t the best way to interpret the ruling. The best way to interpret the ruling is to read through the entire judicial history. That’s because if you just read the SCC ruling, what you’re reading is jargon… jargon that was *defined* earlier in the process. If you take the whole story together, there is no room for confusion – the interpretation is crystal clear.

    Nevertheless, you want quotes from the SCC ruling itself, so, here goes.

    I think the place that it’s stated the clearest, with the least wiggle room for twisting the interpretation, is paragraph 76:

    When all is said and done, the state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others.

    There’s no way you can possibly interpret that as allowing a ban on religious clothing for public sector employees. It says the state may not discourage participation of believers in public life. Banning their participation unless they violate their religious precepts and remove their clothing is clearlydiscouraging them – and saying “well, they can just take them off, no big deal” is a stupid and wrong-headed as saying “well, atheists can just stand outside during the prayer for a couple minutes, no big deal”. There is NO exception for people on the government payroll – how does “participation in public life” not obviously include that? How is taking a government job not participating in public life?

    All of the surrounding context only further clarifies the point. Paragraph 72, which you quoted (though I don’t understand why you think it only applies to people who aren’t working for the government, because it says nothing of the sort… anywhere):

    … the evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief.

    “Must not interfere”. “May not hinder”. Still not a word mentioning how public sector employees have lost their Charter rights during working hours.

    Not clear enough?

    Paragraph 78… clear as day:

    With respect, what is in issue here is not complete secularity, but true neutrality on the state’s part and the discrimination that results from a violation of that neutrality. … State neutrality means… that the state must neither encourage nor discourage any form of religious conviction whatsoever.

    (All the stuff I cut out is mostly references to the Court of Appeal’s take (which was that banning all signs of religion is favouring atheism, and that keeping religion is okay if it’s historical). It doesn’t change the context.)

    There it is. Neutrality does not mean removing all religion from the public space. It means neither favouring nor discouraging any faith (including none). Whatsoever. Still nothing staying public sector employees don’t count.

    Here are some other quotes expanding the idea that it’s not about stripping away all signs of religion, but rather just about making sure the state itself – not the individuals participating in the public space – does not profess a religion. Paragraph 134:

    … [T]here is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another.

    Which would include favouring anti-religious views over Muslim views or Sikh views or Jewish views. Neutrality is not non-belief. You can have religion in the public sphere, so long as it is not the state‘s religion (or apparent religion).

    There is also paragraph 137, where Gascon is answering the Court of Appeal’s argument that banning government from being religious means making it atheist, which is not truly neutral:

    … True neutrality is concerned not with a strict separation of church and state on questions related to religious thought. The purpose of neutrality is instead to ensure that the state is, and appears to be, open to all points of view regardless of their spiritual basis. Far from requiring separation, true neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any religion, and that it abstain from taking any position on this subject. Even if a religious practice engaged in by the state is “inclusive”, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers; whether it is consistent with the Quebec Charter depends not on the extent to which it is inclusive, but on its exclusive nature and its effect on the complainant’s ability to act in accordance with his or her beliefs.

    I don’t know how much clearer it can get. Gascon says, in plain anglais/French, that it is not about trying to strip all signs of religion out of the public sphere – it is about taking no stand for or against. Neither favouring nor hindering.

    The reason why I think this quote is particularly important is because one of the arguments made by proponents of the Charter of Values is that it doesn’t actually prevent any religious person from having a government job. If they really want one, they can just take of their hijab/dastar/kippah/whatever, right?

    But what Gascon is saying here is that that just won’t fly. It doesn’t matter how “inclusive” the Charter of Values is… what matters is it does exclude certain people – those who won’t/can’t remove their religious accessories – and it specifically excludes them due to their religious beliefs (that they can’t remove their religious accessories). It does affect people’s ability to act in accordance with their beliefs, and excludes them on that basis. That last clause in the quote above spells it out clearly: Not okay.

    Now, all that is what the ruling says. What I’d like to point out now is what it doesn’t say.

    I checked. Ignoring citations, the word “employees” (and any of its cognates: “employed”, “employment”, etc.) does not appear even once in the Supreme Court ruling – not in the part Gascon wrote, or in the part Abella wrote – except for one time where Gascon is quoting the Tribunal’s orders (p. 155). I also searched for “work” (and its cognates)… it appears 8 times, but never in the right context (the context it appears in are either things like “the work of the council” or “works of art”). The word “private” appears twice… once in “private players” (which I’ll discuss when I deal with Rand’s dishonest quoting), and once in a lengthy quote where it basically says religion is a private matter. I even searched for “servants”/”service”… nothing in the context of public servants (just “served” in the sense of “notice was served”). I only searched the English translation, but I’ll happily apply the same heuristics to the French if you think it will make a difference.

    So where is this “clear distinction” between “private citizens on the one hand and state employees on duty on the other” that Rand claims? The clarity is apparently so clear it’s, well, invisible. I don’t see any distinction, let alone the kind of “clear distinction” you’d expect from a Supreme Court ruling – where not only would you expect to see a clearly explicit distinction, you’d expect to see supporting justification. In the whole ruling, I see only two words that might – via a rather torturous interpretation, and ignoring all context, and the entire rest of the ruling – refer to people who are neither representatives of the state nor employed by it… but they really don’t, and it’s obvious when you take them literally or with the surrounding context (or even if you just ignore them and read the rest of the ruling – the point is repeated more than once).

    So where exactly does the ruling – after spending paragraph after paragraph after paragraph saying that the state cannot hinder anyone’s religion, cannot create a public space where certain beliefs are not welcome, cannot force neutrality on individuals, and cannot discourage multiculturalism and diversity – suddenly turn around and say: “Oh, but all that shit I’ve been talking about the whole ruling? About making the state neutral but respecting the freedom of individuals? None of that applies to government employees. Because fuck ’em, that’s why.”?

    Where is that in the ruling? Show me that.

    Now, a final word of caution. Though I can easily dump several more supporting quotes (paragraph 74, paragraph 119, the opening commentary, etc.) – and though I know there are no quotes supporting Rand’s claim that the SCC ruling has some kind of exception on Charter rights for public sector employees – this is not the proper way to read the ruling. Supreme Court rulings are not Coles Notes. They are not meant to be skimmed, or pored through by someone with an ideological axe to grind looking for anything that can possibly be warped to sound vaguely in their favour. The Supreme Court ruling was only the final chapter in a long process. You can’t possibly properly understand the conclusion of a story just by reading the final chapter. You need the whole story. You need the whole context.

    And if you take in the whole context of the ruling, the final judgement is crystal clear. There’s seriously no room for Rand’s interpretation. Every stage of the process considered his view… every stage rejected it. Over and over and over. The Supreme Court ruling is actually the least clear in rejecting it, because by then it already been rejected at every other level.

    So unless you’ve got something in your copy of the ruling that I don’t, there is nothing in the SCC ruling that supports a ban on religious accessories for public sector employees… and a whole lot that forbids it. I’d say: case closed.

    (And, as an aside, for those people who want to try and paint this shutting down of the Québec Charter of Values by the Supreme Court of Canada as a “Québec vs. ‘rest-of-Canada'” thing – because I know you’re out there – let me put the smack down on that preemptively. The Québec Court of Appeal ruling, had it not been overruled by the Supreme Court, was worse for the Charter of Values than the final SCC ruling… far worse. Far, far, far worse. Though, of course, the SCC ruling is still devastating, it’s at least far closer to being on your side than the Québec Court of Appeal ever was. So, you’re welcome.)


    Just to cap this off, I have to justify my accusations that Rand is dishonestly misquoting and distorting the Supreme Court ruling.

    Let’s start with exactly what he claimed the Supreme Court said:

    Furthermore, it asserts that “state officials, in the performance of their functions” when they “profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others” are unacceptably discriminating on the basis of religion. The decision therefore supports the duty of discretion, imposed on public servants when on the job, included in the PQ’s Charter. It also states that “Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals” but this applies to individuals who are “private players.” Thus, public employees must be neutral when on duty, because they are the state when they are working. The state has no existence except through its agents.

    Now the sentences without quotes are all just Rand’s personal theory that he’s pretending the Supreme Court agrees with. (But it’s completely ridiculous. If any random public employee “is” the state, then if Daesh or al-Qaida wanted to attack Canada, a bus driver would be a legitimate target. Rubbish.) The two sentences with quotes are:

    Furthermore, it asserts that “state officials, in the performance of their functions” when they “profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others” are unacceptably discriminating on the basis of religion.


    It also states that “Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals” but this applies to individuals who are “private players.”

    Let’s deal with them in order.

    Now in the first quote, Rand does actually correctly quote Gascon… but he completely misrepresents the surrounding context of that quote, which completely changes the meaning.

    The context of the quote – which is paragraph 84 – is when Gascon is in the middle of explaining when… THE STATE… has breached its “duty of neutrality”. Not individuals; THE STATE. Not individuals; THE STATE. Not individuals; THE STATE. I repeated that 3 times so it sinks in, because Rand apparently missed it, so maybe it’s hard to spot.

    Gascon introduces the point in paragraph 83 by outlining the two main things that are necessary for… THE STATE… to breach its duty of neutrality: “the alleged breach of the duty of neutrality must be established by proving that THE STATE is professing, adopting or favouring one belief [criteria 1] to the exclusion of all others [criteria 2] and that the exclusion has resulted in interference with the complainant’s freedom of conscience and religion [criteria 3].” As you can see, Gascon is clearly talking about THE STATE, not individuals. The next two paragraphs cover the 3 criteria – 2 in the first, 1 in the second.

    Here is Paragraph 84… including the bits Rand selectively didn’t quote:

    First, because of the duty of religious neutrality with which it is required to comply, THE STATE may not profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others. Obviously, the state itself cannot engage in a religious practice, so the practice would be one engaged in by one or more state officials, who would have to be acting in the performance of their functions. Where state officials, in the performance of their functions, profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others, the first two criteria for discrimination mentioned above, namely that there be an exclusion, distinction or preference and that it be based on religion, are met.

    As you can see, the sentence that Rand quotes takes on an entirely different meaning in context. Gascon is talking about THE STATE failing its duty of neutrality by professing a religion. Then he says, well, “the state” can’t “do” anything, so the action itself has to be carried out by its officials, acting in their official capacity (as opposed to officials just doing other stuff that isn’t “official”). That does not mean anyone taking a government paycheque – I can’t even fathom how you can reach that interpretation without wilfully ignoring the context. That means people specifically acting as instruments of a STATE religious expression, speaking for or as the state.

    But okay, you know what, even if you are determined to interpret that as Gascon saying that a street sweeper wearing a kippah is a “state official” who, in zes “performance of their functions”, is professing a belief that violates the state’s duty of religious neutrality (oi vey!), you still can’t find support for a ban because of the third criteria, which Rand just completely ignores. Paragraph 85:

    Second, the state practice must have the effect of interfering with the individual’s freedom of conscience and religion, that is, impeding the individual’s ability to act in accordance with his or her beliefs. …


    Even if you can somehow wrangle out the interpretation that a street sweeper in a kippah… or a passport office clerk in a dastar… or a doctor in a hijab… is a “state official” using their “official capacity” to profess a state religion, the bottom line is that their headgear does not interfere… in any way… with your freedom of conscience, nor does it impede your ability to act in accordance with your beliefs.

    So even if you work that tortured logic that turns any asshole taking a government paycheque into a state official officially professing a state religion… you’re still shit-outta-luck because you cannot argue that their hat interferes with your ability to be an atheist. Boom. It’s over. You have failed to satisfy the criteria necessary to prove the a breach of the duty of neutrality (p. 83).

    The only way you can believe that a religious accessory ban is legit is if you cherry pick a single sentence or two out of three paragraphs of context, and ignore everything else. Which, of course, is exactly what Rand did.

    On to the second quote.

    The second quote is actually hilariously bad. You have see the Rand version and the original version side-by-side to appreciate just how bad.

    Here’s Rand:

    It also states that “Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals” but this applies to individuals who are “private players.”

    Here’s the original:

    I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals.

    Okay, ignoring everything else, look at exactly what Rand did. Even if his interpretation of “private players” is correct (spoiler alert: it’s not), what he did was basically turn “We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall never surrender.” into “‘We shall never surrender’ but this applies to fighting done ‘on the beaches’.”

    I mean, that’s as bad as the classic “this movie is… incredible!”.

    As for what the actual quote says, here it is in full:

    By expressing no preference, the state ensures that it preserves a neutral public space that is free of discrimination and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally, given that everyone is valued equally. I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals. On the contrary, a neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity. The neutrality of the public space therefore helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society enshrined in s. 27 of the Canadian Charter. Section 27 requires that the state’s duty of neutrality be interpreted not only in a manner consistent with the protective objectives of the Canadian Charter, but also with a view to promoting and enhancing diversity.

    Wow, that makes a totally different point than Rand’s!

    Firstly, Rand tries to interpret “private players”/« acteurs privés » as “people who aren’t government employees”… which of course is neither what it says nor what it means. A “private actor” means anyone who is not acting for the state. Not “working”… “acting”; if Gascon had meant “working”, he would have fucking said “working”. It means people who aren’t doing something in the name of the state – people who aren’t acting AS the state; they’re doing something in their own name. A government employee is not acting as an agent of the state when they eat their lunch. They are not acting as an agent of the state when they scratch their ass on the job. And they are not acting as an agent of the state when they choose their wardrobe, or when they sport a beard on the job, or when they wear a dastar on the job.

    I cannot fathom how you can pull Rand’s interpretation out of that paragraph. I mean, to do that you have to imagine that paragraph is just a bunch of random, unconnected sentences that Gascon decided to throw together like some kind of concept soup. By contrast, if you read it as Gascon actually intended it, not only is the meaning quite clear, the logic and reasoning flows very naturally.

    First he asserts that the state is supposed to create a neutral public space. Then he makes a point of saying that doesn’t mean the homogenization of “private players”. Why do you think he does that? Isn’t it bloody obvious? He is referencing the ideology behind the Charter of Values… and he’s saying no! Why else would he word it that way? Why wouldn’t he have made the second sentence: “A neutral public space is one where all representatives and employees of the state are homogenized, but not individuals with no official or employment connection to the state.”?

    Instead he says that homogenization of ??? (let’s pretend we don’t know what “private players” means, because the meaning will be clarified anyway in following sentences) is wrong… and in the next… freaking… sentence… he clarifies that sentence by saying… just in case there was any doubt… by saying: “Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals.” Again, why doesn’t he say: “Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, and of individuals working for or representing the state, but not of other individuals.”? Because despite what Rand desperately wants to believe, that’s not what Gascon means. Rand has to actually mangle Gascon’s sentence, tacking on his own qualification, to get it mean what he wants it to mean.

    And then Gascon goes on… further clarifying… by saying that there can be no “coercion, pressure, or judgement” in the public space, and that “every person’s freedom and dignity” must be protected. How can you interpret “every person” in the public space as “every person… except people getting a government salary”? What, do you think a Supreme Court Justice would just… gloss over.. the fact that he’s saying a certain group of people have lost their Charter rights for the entire workday? Saying “you give up your Charter rights if you do X”, such as getting a government job, is kind of a big fucking deal. You seriously think maybe Gascon forgot to mention it because he was the new guy or something?

    And then he still goes on!… saying that the purpose of neutrality is to preserve and promote multiculturalism and diversity. Hello? How can anyone possibly read that passage and take away that Gascon supports the Charter of Values? David Rand says straight up: “Multiculturalism is incompatible with secularism”. Gascon says the complete… fucking… opposite!!! – that this is about preserving and promoting multiculturalism! How much more clear do you need it to be to get that the ruling completely contradicts Rand’s views?

    That whole paragraph is what it looks like when a Canadian Supreme Court Justice says “fuck you”, in an official judicial ruling. He is tearing the ideas behind the Charter of Values apart, repeatedly hammering home that the idea of homogenizing public sector employees (or anyone, for that matter – he doesn’t even bother to dignify the distinction) is not only not “neutrality”, it is a complete violation of the very ideas Canada is founded on! I mean, holy crap, he’s not even diplomatic about it! (Honestly, though: “Multiculturalism is incompatible with secularism”? No, dude, racism is incompatible with multiculturalism. Xenophobia is incompatible with multiculturalism. General intolerance and bigotry is incompatible with multiculturalism. There are many things that are incompatible with multiculturalism, but secularism is not one of them – so says I and just about every major secular, atheist, freethought, and humanist organization in the world. Multiculturalism is incompatible with your worldview… which you are trying to pretend is just “secular”, but is obviously more than that… and given the other things that multiculturalism is incompatible with, you might want to reflect on that carefully.)

    Anyway, moving on.

    In a later comment, Rand quotes this:

    For example, in paragraph 119 of the decision we read “the same restrictions do not apply to the exercise by state officials of their own freedom of conscience and religion when they are not acting in an official capacity.” In other words, when they ARE acting in an official capacity, there are restrictions.

    “In other words”, dramatic eye roll.

    That’s a desperate attempt to interpret that out-of-context sentence in Rand’s favour. In this case his paraphrasing is technically correct (which he manages only because all he does is simply repeat the sentence exactly, in the affirmative), but only in what he says… not in what he means (as evidenced by, ya know, every other fucking thing he’s ever said). He thinks “acting in official capacity” means “merely being at work”. As if Beverley McLachlin getting up to get a coffee is a motion before the Supreme Court.

    By now you can probably guess the pattern. So let’s see what paragraph 119 actually says:

    I repeat that what is at issue here is the state’s adherence, through its officials acting in the performance of their functions, to a religious belief. The state, I should point out, does not have a freedom to believe or to manifest a belief; compliance with its duty of neutrality does not entail a reconciliation of rights. On the other hand, it goes without saying that the same restrictions do not apply to the exercise by state officials of their own freedom of conscience and religion when they are not acting in an official capacity. Although they are not entitled to use public powers to profess their beliefs, this does not affect their right to exercise this freedom on a personal basis.

    Clear as day. “… [T]he STATE’S adherence…”. It’s talking about a state religion, not individuals’ personal beliefs.

    Rand wants to interpret that – by some twisty logic – as meaning that merely being employed by the state in any capacity (or has he given up on that claim? i can’t even tell – i can’t make sense of his “logic”) means you are forbidden to express your faith at all while on the job. How remarkably imaginative… but I prefer to figure out what the text means by looking at what it actually says.

    And of course, it doesn’t actually say anything remotely like what Rand claims it does. What it says is patently obvious. It says, in simple terms: “This is about the state’s religion. The state can’t profess a religion; it can’t use its officials to profess a religion. But officials can profess a religion… when they are not acting in official capacity – that is, when they are not speaking as the state, but speaking as themselves. So long as officials don’t use their public powers to profess their faith, they are free to profess as they please.”

    Which all makes perfect sense, and is all perfectly reasonable. Firstly, it’s only talking about officials of the state… not every schmuck on the public payroll, but people who actually speak for the state. (I can’t even imagine how you can go from “state officials” to “anyone getting a government salary”. A bus driver is not a fucking state official, geez.) Secondly, it bans officials from being the mouthpieces for a state religion, or from using their platform to push their own religion. Which is perfectly obvious and legit. Yet as long as they’re not doing one of those things, it specifically allows them to express their own personal beliefs. In other words, a Muslim MP, so long as she is not pushing a state religion or using her position as the state’s representative to push her own religion, is absolutely free to wear a hijab to work if she wants. (And no, Islamophobes, merely wearing a hijab is not “pushing Islam”. It’s being Muslim. Which they have a Charter right to be. Pushing Islam would be them telling you to wear a hijab or worship Allah or whatever. Saying that merely wearing a hijab is “pushing” Islam is as stupid and transparently Islamophobic as when saying that a gay couple holding hands is “pushing” some gay agenda is obviously homophobic.)

    I should mention that this idea is visited over and over and over throughout the judicial process that ended with MLQ v Saguenay. At one point, there is even mention of Tremblay having a crucifix in his office, and that wasn’t asked to be removed… but the crucifix in the public meeting area was ruled inappropriate (though that ruling was later overruled on a technicality). It’s okay for anyone in government to have a religion, and to display it openly. It’s not okay for them to use their powers to promote it. (And of course, it’s not okay for the state (through its officials) to promote or hinder any religion.)

    In general, there is a pattern of cherry-picking quotes, presenting them chopped up, ignoring the context, and shoehorning interpretations in line with Rand’s ideological bent… all while completely ignoring the absolute lack of support his beliefs in the big picture (such as the fact that there’s not a single mention, anywhere, that public sector employees give up their Charter freedoms… seriously, that would be a major fucking point to make – that would not be something Gascon would just gloss over and leave between the lines). The ruling does not support his ideology. Going at it with a chisel and a pair of foggy glasses will not change that.

  7. The above “comment” should have been truncated to the length of a comment, say 500 words or less.

    In a desperate attempt to snatch defeat (for secularism) from the jaws of victory, the unscrupulous individual apparently hiding behind the pseudonym “Indi” has posted almost 5000 words, a total waste of time for visitors to this page, with the precise purpose of convincing the reader that the Supreme Court did not say what it did in fact say. He/she is not here to debate, but rather to obfuscate. I will not bother to read any further “comments” from him/her.

    In its decision of 2015-04-15, the Supreme Court of Canada unambiguously declared that “state officials, in the performance of their functions,” may not “profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others.” But don’t take my word for it. Read the decision yourself and make up your own mind:

    The Court’s declaration is not an explicit endorsement of any dress code — that would be beyond the purview of the case they were considering. But the Court goes half way there, stipulating that state officials when on duty must maintain religious neutrality. In order to justify the ban on the wearing of religious symbols by such state officials, it would be necessary to prove that such wearing constitutes religious profession, adoption or favouritism. That should not be too difficult. Thus, it is up to us secularists to prepare our arguments with that goal in mind. We must be ready for any test case that might surface.

    • > The above “comment” should have been truncated to the length of a comment, say 500 words or less.

      It takes far fewer words to lie than it does to expose lies and clarify truth.

    • > That should not be too difficult.

      This is the crux of your disagreement.

      I call bullshit. A hat is a hat. Claiming it has magical religious significance is not something a rational atheist would do. It’s an emotional reaction, just anti-religious bigotry.

      If you are offended by someone’s hat, that is your probem. Not theirs.

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