For the third time in a row, the new Québec government is considering some form of state-enforced dress code to force religious people to look less, well, religious. Once again, a depressingly large number of atheists think this makes sense. And so, once again, I’m going to explain why it doesn’t.
I would love to be able to do this in a single article. Unfortunately, that’s just not practical for a number of reasons.
First, there is virtually no agreement about exactly what should be banned, or who should be banned from wearing stuff, or in what circumstances. Sometimes only people in positions where they wield the state’s coercive power (judges, police offices) should be banned from wearing only “ostentatious” religious accessories. Sometimes even teachers and wildlife officers (?) should be banned from wearing all visible religious accessories. Sometimes everyone should be banned from wearing religious accessories in public. And you’ll find proponents of all flavours in between.
Second, because this debate has been going on for over a decade now (almost two! and that’s just in Québec!), the arguments of proponents have gotten more numerous, and more complex. Not better, oh, dear me, no. They’re all still terrible; they’re just just more complex, which means they require more careful and precise debunking. And there’s a lot more of them.
And finally, and most importantly, most people in favour of religious accessories bans really haven’t given it much thought. Some of them are straight-up bigots, and so they don’t want to put any thought into it, lest they be forced to face their own bigotry. But a lot of them are decent, well-meaning people, who just haven’t sat down and really thought hard about the issue. And why should they? It won’t affect them (they think), and it’s not that much of a burden on those it does affect, right? And it just… feels right… right? A secular state shouldn’t be represented by people wearing religious accessories, right? Right? I mean… obvious, right? (Spoiler alert: wrong.)
It would probably be possible to debunk the idea in a single post, but if I did that, I would inevitably be leaving room for proponents to weasel their fine-tuned arguments around it. I would also have to be short and dismissive, which will probably piss off people who believe their positions are well-considered and legitimate, and deserve serious consideration.
And the bottom line really is that is not a simplistic issue. Treating it as one is one of the ways you end up so very wrong about it.
So I’m going to spend several articles taking the issue apart in painstaking detail. The target audience is primarily nonbelievers who think religious accessories bans sound like a good idea, and may have even given it some serious thought at some point.
If that’s you – if you’re an atheist who supports religious accessories bans – I implore you to read the series through. We’re supposed to be the people who base our beliefs on evidence and logical reasoning, but we all know how easy it is to be seduced by things that… feel… right, but have no real rational basis. I submit that this is one of those things; I understand why (some forms of) religious accessories bans feel right, but I believe I can show why they’re actually not justifiable.
So, please, especially if this is something you intend to support or oppose publicly – especially if you’re in a position to impose a ban on others (for example, you’re considering voting for a party whose platform includes it) – take the time to carefully review my admittedly meticulous and detailed arguments against religious accessories bans. People’s rights are at stake; people’s jobs are at stake; the course of people’s lives might be at stake. If you’re willing to have that kind of impact on people, you at least owe them that much.