The Conversation Continues

by | November 27, 2015

The post “’Declaration for a Secular Public Service‘” has attracted numerous comments. A couple of commenters want clarification and one commenter drew attention to the post “’Canadian Masquerade.’” The conversation continues on the Atheist Freethinkers blog with Christine Shellska’s  “Response to Blog #062 ‘Canadian Masquerade.’

The defining characteristic of Shellska’s response to “the case of Zunera Ishaq, who was granted permission to wear the niqab while taking her Canadian citizenship oath” is Shellska’s ambivalence:

As an atheist, I am, quite frankly, “offended” by all religious head coverings; I cannot help but conceive of them as silly costumes symbolizing irrational deference to imaginary beings. In particular, I share the view that the niqab is inherently misogynist, an instrument of segregation from one’s fellow citizens that underscores the pernicious idea that women are responsible for the sexual behaviour of men. And I daresay that I think those who claim the niqab is “liberating,” or symbolic of “feminism,” are misguided victims of the false consciousness sanctioned by religion.

But as a secularist, I recognize that my “offense” is not sufficient grounds to deny the rights of my fellow citizens to express themselves as they deem fit – assuming that it is indeed a “right” and not an obligation imposed upon those women who don the niqab by their oppressive “guardians” under threat of violence, or worse, murder in the name of “honour.” Moreover, cultural and linguistic isolation can provide an effective barrier to prevent vulnerable individuals from understanding their rights as Canadian residents, and seeking out the resources that ensure those rights are protected. Whether the niqab should be banned, and if so, who to penalize and how, are questions that require careful consideration, for punishing those we intend to protect is surely not among the outcomes Canadians, and humanists, desire.

Shellska’s mixed feelings about the niqab are even more obvious in her conclusion:

While legislation banning facial coverings is surely appropriate in some contexts, in my opinion, the solution is to offer resources to those who are the targets of oppression and, possibly, violence, and to educate future generations.

The AFT Board of Directors response “Face-Coverings Must be Banned in All State Institutions” is unequivocal. It is not, as one commenter suggests, an attempt to “fight the twin scourges of freedom of belief and freedom of expression.” The members of the AFT Board of Directors make it very clear that

The failure to ban the full veil in state institutions is unethical and unacceptable. It is a betrayal of Muslim women and secular Muslims. It is a betrayal of secularism, women’s rights and human rights in general.

Those who point out that there is “no constitutionally based separation between church and state” are correct. However, the Supreme Court Decision in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay makes it very clear that state institutions must be secular and neutral:

The state’s duty of religious neutrality results from an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion. The evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of this neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard, which means that it must neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief.

Let’s keep the conversation going and consider reading and commenting on the many posts on secularism on the Atheist Freethinkers’ blog.


12 thoughts on “The Conversation Continues

  1. dusttodust

    Are we still on this?!

    I’ll just repeat my going-nuclear response for what I see as an entirely relevant equivalency.
    It’s currently a mothers sole right and decision to terminate a pregnancy based quite fundamentally on the fact that the combined cells are inside the mother. The combined cells are 100% dependent on the mother. The combined cells have no rights until they’ve grown and matured enough to be able to breathe and are disconnected from the mother. Everybody else may very well have opinions on taking and/or restricting that right. None of it matters. The mothers rights trumps all objections.

    It’s entirely equivalent that what however many of us might think and feel and opine about head coverings doesn’t matter a bit due to the simple fundamental right that the person wearing such a garment has to do so. None of what anyone else says or thinks or opines matters. The wearers rights trumps all objections.

    Education and enlightenment sure. Birthers can educate all they want. Uncovered-headers can educate all they want. Coercion to abide by someone elses opinion by force of law…no.

    What’s the end of that wonderful WWII saying/poem? And then they came for me.

  2. Tim Underwood

    I believe there is a law in Saskatchewan prohibiting the wearing of ‘colors’ in premises where alcohol is served.

    I thought this was an unjust law, even if it did prevent violence or intimidation of some sort.

    So there is a law, I think, that prevents civilians from wearing gang specific clothing for the benefit of the drinking public.

    I can more easily support a law that would prohibit the wearing of motorcycle gang insignia while performing the duties of a civil servant.

    As a lifelong motorcyclist (no gang affiliation} I am inclined to like anyone who rides. Motorcycle gang members are probably effectively excluded from civil service employment. There is a certain amount of injustice to this as well.

    I am more comfortable with motorcycle gang members being civil servants than I am with enthusiastically religious people being civil servants. If the dress code were in place, I would be happily oblivious to either eventuality.

    Actually, gang members are probably, by majority, Christian and they would probably be more likely to be wearing Christian paraphernalia on the job.

  3. Winnipeg

    I hope we’re all clear on what a hijab is, and what a niqab is. The only issue we should be discussing is face coverings, which are niqabs. Hair coverings, like hijabs, have always been uncontroversial in Canada.

    I am disheartened to see that the main argument is over the question of a right to wear a niqab, with no mention of the issue of a right to NOT wear one. When you look at societies in which most or all women wear burqas or niqabs, it is impossible to convince one’s self that they are *all* wearing them voluntarily. That would be an unacceptable scenario in Canada.

    Covering women’s faces is something that may fit well with an arranged-marriage culture that includes so-called “honor culture” (that is to say, honor killings etc.), but not a secular love-marriage culture like all Western cultures. We cannot have a society divided along the lines of whether “family honor” supersedes “right to remain alive”, and that is what face-covering represents.

    1. dusttodust

      It’s the same thing. It’s not just the right to wear whatever on your head. The right to wear it is the same as NOT to wear it. We have a right to wear whatever we want and then of course we SHOULD have the right NOT to wear whatever we don’t want.

      I applaud those women that have fought in the courts for the right to bare their breasts. Of course they should be able to bare their breats. That’s the right to NOT wear something which is really the same as the overall right to wear whatever the hell you want. It’s the same as the argument some secularists use. The right to NOT partake in a religion. Freedom of religion and from religion and all that.

      I agree that societal “force” to make someone wear something is wrong. The dominant culture here has that. Just try to assert a right of NOT wearing something covering your genitals out in public. Good luck with that. That is force of law and societal “force”.

      If a woman would rather not wear some form of head covering and she gets some kind of force to stop her from asserting that right then that oppressor should be brought to justice. Until then, she is agreeing with the societal force. Just like the dominant culture person who would really rather just not cover the genitals agrees to be covered due to societal force (and law currently).

  4. steve oberski

    I have to agree with Shellska’s response with the addendum that while of course anyone has the right to play at religious Mr. DressUp for (supposedly) adults, there is also the concomitant duty of those opposed to the religious contamination of secular state institutions to oppose and criticise this bad behaviour.

  5. Indi

    Conversation? What conversation. All we have on the issue is a small group of rabid fanatics intent on stripping away people’s right to freedom of belief and expression, who keep making baseless, unsupported assertions and ignoring all of the many, many, many, *MANY* reasonable responses that point out how ridiculous, misguided, or flat-out wrong those assertions are. It’s like a group of adults trying to get through to a screaming baby to calm them down, while the baby just ignores the attempts and keeps on screaming. That is not a “conversation”.

    If you want to have a conversation, *RESPOND* to some of the many criticism and concerns about the claims and assertions you’ve made, rather than simply ignoring them then repeating those same discredited claims and assertions later.

    1. Corwin

      To me it looks more like there are groups of rabid fanatics (or at least, people with strong and inflexible opinions) on both sides, flanking those of us who may lean in one direction or the other but just don’t see the issue as either particularly clear-cut or particularly important. Only a tiny number of people would want to wear conspicuous religious symbols in public sector workplaces, and only a tiny number of people would be genuinely distressed by the sight of a religious symbol in a public sector workplace. You’ve decided to go all-in with the former group and basically ignore the concerns of the latter, whereas the inflexibles on the other side of the fence have done the opposite. You have your reasons, and so do they. You don’t think they’ve been responding to your points, and they probably don’t think you’ve been responding to theirs – it’s just a question of different frames of reference, different arguments being given the stamp of validity and credibility.

      I think people should be allowed to wear what they like, unless there’s a damn good reason to abridge that freedom, and I don’t want the most sensitive people to be allowed to dictate standards for the rest of us. For those reasons, I’m actually on your side of this particular fence, but I think your inability to see the other side’s perspective is basically myopic. It’s just a question of competing priorities.

      1. Indi

        > You’ve decided to go all-in with the former group and basically ignore the concerns of the latter….

        Your facts are not in alignment with reality.

        The reality is that when Rand first appeared on the scene tubthumping this issue, I responded to each and every one of his rants/posts in *EXCRUCIATING* detail. I went line-by-line, point-by-point, explaining why each argument, claim, or point was wrong (and, yes, that included acknowledging which of his concerns were actually valid). In fact, that’s how I became to be known as “the guy who is on the other side” of this issue. (And I did not go “all-in” with people who are pro-religious-headgear. I just responded *DIRECTLY* to Rand’s claims, and specifically to his claims, and nothing more, and that’s all I’ve ever done. The claims that I’m pro-hijab come from Rand and his followers (and now you – your faux fence-sitting doesn’t appear to be as honest as you would like to pretend); nothing I have ever done or said even comes *CLOSE* to making me a supporter of such nonsense.)

        But none of the points or concerns I raised was ever directly addressed. Rand wouldn’t even *acknowledge* the objections. I don’t really care that he completely ignored me, but what infuriates me is that he ignores every legitimate objection to his points (whether they’re made by me or not, and they often aren’t). Even when someone makes rather exhaustive rebuttals of particular claims, those same debunked claims show up in his next rant.

        Case in point, the first time Rand tried to claim that MLQ v Saguenay supported his position, I wrote a very detailed explanation of why it straight up and directly contradicts him – *VERY* detailed, with extensive quotes from the ruling and references to the previous cases. No one on the other side has ever managed any kind of response to it. And sure enough, here they are, still making the same discredited claims as if they’d never been extensively debunked.

        So your facts are out of order. In point of fact, I tried *repeatedly*, and extensively, to actually discuss this topic, and to specifically address the precise points raised by the other side. The other side has never responded, and continues to use claims that have been extensively debunked, without any acknowledgement of the debunking. What you’re seeing now is that I’ve given up on any efforts to reason with them… because they simply don’t respond to reason, and never have.

        They don’t want a conversation. They just repeat the same same empty assertions and discredited claims and arguments, while the rest of us ask questions and raise objections and get ignored. Rinse, repeat. You’ll see. In a few weeks, another of Rand’s rants will be highlighted here, and it will be the same damn thing – the same assertions, the same claims, the same arguments – and nothing any of his objectors say will have any meaningful impact.

        1. Tim Underwood

          The Canadian public can impose whatever dress codes they want for the various branches of the civil service. They can even impose dress codes on outside contractors. The Canadian Atheist can advocate for what they, as a concerned group , prefer. The reasons for their preferences are only there to persuade.

        2. Corwin

          You’re not pro-hijab, but you’re adamantly pro-right-to-wear-hijabs. That’s what I meant by “all-in”. Also, I’m not exactly fence-sitting. I’m clearly on your side of the fence, but I’m a lot closer to the fence than you are, and I can see from where I’m standing that the terrain on the other side isn’t just a shattered moonscape of rabidity and irrationality – there are some positions over there that a reasonable person could comfortably occupy. I’m not saying, of course, that David Rand is in such a position. As far as I’m concerned, the two of you pretty much deserve each other.

          I’ve gone back and quickly refreshed my memory of the exchange about MLQ v. Saguenay, and my main impression (as was the case when I read it the first time) was irritation with that Gascon character for apparently not bothering to write one bloody sentence that directly and explicitly addressed the question of whether it’s okay for public sector employees to wear conspicuous religious symbols while on the job. (If there was some nicety that prevented him from writing such a sentence, I hereby transfer my irritation to the Canadian legal system, which I think is inefficient and needlessly Byzantine in many ways.) If he had, you and Rand wouldn’t have been left flopping around in a Talmudic snoozefest of an argument over whether public employees during working hours were part of the state or people outside the state.

          For the record, I did think you had the better end of that discussion, but that’s the casual opinion of someone with little patience for legalistic bullshit. I’m much more interested in the broad societal question (as opposed to the narrow legal question) of whether public sector employees should be allowed to tootle around the office in silly religious headgear. That societal conversation is the one in which I think you’re being far too adamant and refusing to perceive the merits (limited as I believe they are) of the other side’s arguments, but perhaps I’m wrong – perhaps I’ve been mistakenly interpreting your full-throatedness in the legal conversation as adamantness in the societal one. The two conversations overlap enough that it’s not always easy to keep them straight.

          1. Indi

            > As far as I’m concerned, the two of you pretty much deserve each other.

            So you’re saying that the opposite extreme to Rand’s “we must strip all people of their religious clothing in public spaces!” is not “we must force all people to wear religious clothing in public spaces!”…

            … or even just “we must force all people to wear *their* religious clothing in public spaces!”…

            … or even just “we must allow all people to wear their religious clothing in public spaces regardless of circumstance!”

            No, according to you the polar opposite extreme of “we must strip all people of their religious clothing in public spaces!” is “we must allow people to wear their religious clothing in public spaces unless there is a good reason to forbid it!” Because that’s my position, it’s always been my position, and I’ve always been *crystal* clear about that.

            Isn’t that a lot like the idiots who use the term “atheist extremist” as if it were the equal and opposite number to “religious extremist”, when the former just write harsh comments while the latter put on shows of butchering people?

            I have never argued against Rand’s nonsense merely on the basis that I disagree with it and am of the opinion people should be allowed to wear silly hats, merely because they don’t bother me. I have *always* made it clear that my objections to his nonsense are because I believe government should always base all of their decisions and actions on *reason* – not fear and not intolerance. Every time I have objected to his nonsense, I have done so by pointing out that the problem with it is that it is irrational… in fact, I have repeatedly stated that the problem with islamophobia is not disliking Islam – because I also dislike Islam – it’s because the “phobia” refers to *IRRATIONAL* dislike of Islam. The problem is the irrationality.

            I am not “pro-right-to-wear-hijabs”. I am pro-reason. And those arguing against the right to wear hijabs are uniformly irrational; they have yet to come up with a single sensible-sounding argument in favour of banning hijabs (in fact, now they’re on with the wacky idea that seeing people in hijabs is a *mental health* issue!!!). If you manage to find a sane, rational reason why hijabs should be banned, then I will say hijabs should be banned.

            So long as there is no rational reason to force stupid dress codes on Muslims, or anyone else, I will be opposed to any such dress codes. I oppose *ALL* irrational bullshit; I don’t discriminate by whether it comes from religious people, or self-anointed “atheist freethinkers”.

            > I’ve gone back and quickly refreshed my memory of the exchange about MLQ v. Saguenay, and my main impression (as was the case when I read it the first time) was irritation with that Gascon character for apparently not bothering to write one bloody sentence that directly and explicitly addressed the question of whether it’s okay for public sector employees to wear conspicuous religious symbols while on the job. (If there was some nicety that prevented him from writing such a sentence, I hereby transfer my irritation to the Canadian legal system, which I think is inefficient and needlessly Byzantine in many ways.)

            Justices (not Judges; I’m specifically talking about Justices) are (usually) constrained to consider only the facts and questions in or directly relevant to the case they are reviewing. This is a good thing: The courts are not supposed to write laws, Parliament is. We don’t elect Justices, we elect MPs.

            If justices had the freedom to rule on any law they pleased, then any justice could simply take the opportunity in any case before them to strike down any laws they didn’t like. You could end up with situations where a Justice’s ruling goes: “So the laws against miscegenation are in violation of the Charter, and hereby struck down… oh, and by the way, all the drug laws are now void too. Just sayin’. *lights up spliff*”

            Because the Québec Charter of Values didn’t exist at all when the original Saquenay case was heard, the issues it raises were just never brought up. None of the appellate courts that did the judicial reviews of that ruling could just… toss it in there… then rule on it after the fact. (Almost certainly if the Saguenay case had happened a couple years later, or if the CoV had been a thing a few years earlier, it *would* have been an issue brought up in the case. *Then* the appellate courts could have considered it.)

            The other issue is that neither the CoV nor anything even remotely like was ever actually a law (or, let’s face it, in any real danger of becoming one). It was merely an idea being threatened… sorry, floated around. A highly politicized idea. For higher court Justices to use their platform to just… insert their opinions… into the public dialogue – and thus take political sides – would be problematic. Justices are not supposed to decide which laws get passed, they are only supposed to decide whether a law or custom is in violation of our broader body of law.

            Unless and until they are actually specifically tasked with considering the question of whether a headgear ban is legal, all Justices should really keep their damn mouths shut on the issue.

            Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Charter and it’s “values” weren’t actually part of what was being reviewed, in my opinion Gascon managed to make his position (and, by extension, the positions of *ALL* the SCC Justices, because none of them dissented (to that part of Gascon’s opinion)) *quite* clear between the lines. I’d have to say that anyone who reads “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.”… then concludes that the SCC will bless a law that demands homogenization of individuals in the public space in the name of neutrality… is simply delusional.

  6. Christine Shellska

    Late to the party here, but I am revisiting this topic based on the following: I want it to be clear that I agree with AFT Board of Directors on the following statement: “The failure to ban the full veil in state institutions is unethical and unacceptable. It is a betrayal of Muslim women and secular Muslims. It is a betrayal of secularism, women’s rights and human rights in general.” However, I do not agree with banning it in “public spaces” for the reasons I outlined above. The distinction between “state institutions” and “public spaces” is an important one.

    Here is my response to the video clip (posted on facebook):

    I enjoyed this clip, until the last sentence: “Or that government shouldn’t be allowed to legislate what women wear on their heads.” Trudeau seems to think that this was a “conservative” issue. What he neglects to mention is that the issue was brought up in the context of a Canadian citizenship ceremony, where Zunera Ishaq demanded the right to wear the niqab, which is not a “head covering,” but rather a “garment” meant to symbolize the burqa, that covers the entire face (excepting the eyes). I am not a Conservative (in fact I’m to the left of the Liberal party), but they got it right on that issue: it is inappropriate to conceal one’s identity in certain contexts, and a citizenship ceremony is surely one of these (similarly, one would not expect to get away with wearing a Guy Fawkes mask while going through airport security). The burqa is not a “garment.” It is a misogynistic tool of oppression, one that women around the globe are forced to wear against their will. To don a symbol representative of it spits in the face of Canadian values, including and especially the feminist values Trudeau purports to uphold.

    I recently attended the American Humanist Association’s annual conference, and several people asked my opinion of Trudeau. Overall, I said, I like him (and overall, yes, I do like our universal healthcare system, despite its flaws). However, I am PISSED that he chose to honour the Saudi Arabia arms deal agreed to by our former Conservative government. And I am pissed about this flippant, “regressive leftist” comment.


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