For the second week, Québec’s face-covering banning Bill 62 has dominated the Canadian news. And now, the giant crucifix hanging in the Assemblée nationale has become a sideshow to the main circus.
A quick summary to make sure everyone is on the same page: The Québec Liberals, under pressure from opposition parties and widespread Québec bigotry, reluctantly passed a really, really stupid Bill – Bill 62 – which, among other things bans giving or receiving public services while one’s face is covered … with hilariously dumb results. The Liberals have gamely tried to spin this as a “security” measure, but the real motivation is plain enough for anyone who cares to see: it’s about targeting Muslims. The Bill passed with only Liberal support… but don’t hold out hope that sanity prevailed at least in some quarters; the reason most of the opposition didn’t support the Bill was because it didn’t go far enough.
There are a lot of absurdities and hypocrisies to point out in the Bill, but one of the most popular is the ridiculous idea of enforcing “secularism” on a few dozen minorities while the Assemblée nationale continues to do its business under a giant… fucking… crucifix.
And let’s be absolutely clear what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about a plain cross that supporters could at least take a college try at calling a “non-religious symbol”. No, no, we’re talking about a crucifix, complete with the dead-or-dying “saviour” hangin’ off of it, and an INRI or “Jesus, King of the Jews” sign.
I should be angered by that… but I’m really not.
That’s because the Assemblée nationale, while ugly and inappropriate, is arguably the least concerning violation of secularism in Québec right now.
What about the public subsidies to private religious schools?
What about tax breaks for religious clerics and places of worship?
What about all the official street and place names that are based on Catholic saints?
Hell, if you want to focus on crosses, what about the giant, fucking illuminated cross on the top of Mount Royal in Montréal? That’s there to thank the Virgin Mary for stopping flooding in 1642, and at the cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers, it’s been used for such “secular” events as marking the passing of Pope Jean Paul II.
Or what about this:
That’s the flag of Québec, featuring four fleur-de-lis – traditional symbols of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic saints – around a giant white cross.
Look, my point is not that the Assemblée nationale crucifix shouldn’t come down. It absolutely should. But too many people are pointing to it as if it were the only thing necessary to excuse cracking down on religious minorities. Several people have made arguments to the tune of: Just take down the crucifix, and harassing Muslims out of the public sphere would be a-okay. Others haven’t been so blatant, but they have promoted the idea that one should “clean up their own back yard” before attacking others… as if that would then make the attacking perfectly legitimate.
But that’s misguided.
If Québec were a government that had done next to nothing about secularism – like most other governments in Canada – then a tiny, symbolic gesture such as removing the crucifix would be a very meaningful action. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be at least a sign of commitment to the idea of secularism. In a desert, even a drop of water is valuable.
But Québec has made “secularism” its brand. If you’ve made a point of shouting about how “secular” you are from the rooftops, little symbolic gestures simply aren’t good enough anymore. You need to walk the walk. You need to show some substantial commitment to what you preach.
Taking down the Assemblée nationale crucifix is nothing. If Québec were truly secular, instead of faux-“secular”, that shouldn’t even raise a shrug. And let’s be clear, this isn’t just a case of Liberal hypocrisy; the Parti Québécois – the same party that peddled the odious Charter of Values that they claimed was oh-so-“secular” – has held power in Québec for almost 10 years overall just since 1990, most of that as a majority government, and they did nothing about it. In fact, it was a PQ government that put the current crucifix up in 1982.
No Québec government should get a cookie for taking the crucifix down.
A Québec government that is truly committed to secularism – real secularism, not the faux-“secular” laïcité that the racists are so into – should be taking real, meaningful actions in support of secularism. Not pithy symbolic actions like taking down a decoration. And not actions that target tiny, hated minorities while leaving the majority religion off the hook.