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.