On the Periphery of Bill 62, Quebec National Assembly’s Crucifix

by | October 25, 2017


Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Aside from governments telling women what they can wear and can’t wear around the world, minor political activist efforts come in at a consistent pace, on the periphery of the news cycle. Some even have sole article reportage (Peritz, 2017).

As noted in the Freedom of Thought Report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Canada has symbolic inequality with preferential treatment with explicit religious symbols – some of the most important in this case – in the Quebec National Assembly (IHEU, 2016). In the section called Provincial Privileges, it states in full:

A crucifix hangs at the National Assembly of Quebec, right above the Speaker seat, and protocol rules give higher ranking to Catholic prelates than to elected ministers. Buildings used for worship or other religious purpose in Quebec are taxed at a much lower rate than others.

Also in Quebec, the mandatory course on “Ethics and Religious Cultures” is supposed to give all primary and secondary schoolchildren an understanding of the main religions. However the term “Atheist” was deemed to be too “negative” to be included in the course. (Ibid.)

The symbol has been “thrust into the centre of the province’s roiling debate over faith and state secularism” (Peritz, 2017). This is about symbol and reality at the same time, which has some humor to it. As talked about in First Principles Activism – how lovely, I quote and reference myself, (Jacobsen, 2017), some documents can help guide activism, even political forms of it. These start small and become big. This seems symbolic: small.

As has been asked before by others, in a passive tone, is the government – municipal, provincial, territorial, or federal – neutral on matters of faith? Matters in the broad sense, e.g., symbolic and political matters. The question arises for the neutrality of the government in the context of normal political life in Canada.  How would one of the non-faith individuals or faithful individuals feel about unequal representation in the Quebec National Assembly?

Now, those without a formal religion tend to lack religious symbols. That leaves two options and one equal option. Either all religious symbols permitted or none: if all, then non-faith lacks representation, so leads to inequality; if none, then non-faith and faith alike lack representation, so equality via neutrality. The government as neutral creates equality. The government as all in on religion makes for inequality for the irreligious; the government pro only one religion becomes unequal too, to all other religious and irreligion

I, as I assume you as well, would want government as neutral, in the interpretation of government out of matters of faith altogether: true secularism with separation between places of worship, symbols, rituals, and so on, and the government.

“Now it’s time to talk about the apparent secular nature of the most important institution of Quebec democracy, the National Assembly…For us, there’s something profoundly contradictory in the fact we’ve been debating secularism all these years without having the political courage to take action on the crucifix,” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, an MNA with Québec Solidaire said (Peritz, 2017).

Some claim the crucifix unfairly targets faiths such as Islam, minority faiths. In short, government pro one faith or all other faiths, or lack thereof.

It is past 1936, when the Christian or Roman Catholic symbol was installed, and the Quiet Revolution happened and the province secularized. The province remains mostly Catholic, but if many are not – either through adherence to no formal religion or another formal religion – then the fair option is to remove the object because one main argument is that it’s a representation of all Quebeckers.

If many aren’t, then that’s false. It’s a symbol of the majority of Quebeckers harking back to the time when only Roman Catholic Christians could settle in New France. A colony, mind you, that was well-known for slavery in this country of both Indigenous peoples and blacks (Henry, 2017). Christian European-Canadian slave owners of Indigenous peoples, the Pawnee Nation, and blacks. Do we want to represent this as a heritage as well in the Quebec National Assembly? If not, while still wanting the crucifix up, does this mean only the positives of one colonial religion become represented?

It seems more reasonable to remove it:

The motion by the left-leaning Québec Solidaire to debate the removal of the crucifix requires the support of the governing Liberals to move ahead. The main two opposition parties, the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec, support the motion. The PQ says that if it were in government and all parties agreed, it would be open to removing the crucifix. The CAQ says it is open to discussing the issue, although its historic position is to leave the crucifix. (Peritz, 2017)

This remains one small arena for political activism for secularism. What about religion as an exemption to anti-hate speech legislation? What about the blasphemy law? What about the wedding licenses for humanists? How about interpretations of “sincere beliefs” and “reasonable accommodations”? How about Catholic school privileges? Or the anti-GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliances, activities of some Catholic education? Or even the big symbol with the Preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms talking about the “supremacy of God”?

All of these are subject to question and secularization. The crucifix as wholly inappropriate could be a signal to activists across the country for further secular activism. It seems reasonable to me. I would support it.


Henry, N.L. (2016, June 15). Black Enslavement in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/black-enslavement/.

IHEU. (2016). Freedom of Thought Report: Canada. Retrieved from http://freethoughtreport.com/countries/americas-northern-america/canada/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, October 21). First Principles Activism. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2017/10/first-principles-activism/.

Peritz, I. (2017, October 24). Quebec legislature’s crucifix hangs over secularism debate. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/opposition-party-looks-to-remove-crucifix-in-quebecs-national-assembly-amid-bill-62-debate/article36700123/?service=amp.

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