In freedom of religion,Politics,Quebec,secularism
The Parti Quebecois’ Project for a Secular Charter
by Pastor Stéphane Gagné
Note: The Quebec government is now campaigning on its secular charter during a provincial election. So far, it has only articulated a vague description of the kind of religious articles it would prevent public servants from wearing. You can read more here.
France announced recently that the country’s schools are now subjected to a secular charterwhich applies to students as well as teachers. This charter strictly forbids wearing religious signs of any form, and also forbids anyone from getting any form of exemption or accommodation for religious reasons or motives. The goal, it seems, is to protect from proselytism.
As is often the case, Quebec, which seems to hover between France and the rest of North America in its cultural trends, is planning to follow the example of its French cousins. In fact, the daily newspaper Le Journal de Montréal declared that the Parti Québécois, which presently runs the government, is proposing such a charter. The idea of a secular charter isn’t new. In fact, it’s been in development by different political parties for a few years now.
I even offered my own two cents in 2012, as I became probably the first religious minister to run for office in a provincial campaign in Quebec. That year, the newly formed Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ) had approached me with the idea of having me as a representative of the values of liberty and social values that a party should have to really position itself on the right side of the political map. After some prayers and consultations with my fellow pastors, I accepted.
When the time came for the PCQ to elaborate its electoral platform, a proposition for a secular charter project was advanced. I intervened and mentioned my concern that a “secular charter” sounded rather like a constraint, coming from a party that is supposed to defend individual liberties, that wasn’t good. I explained that what worried the majority of Quebec citizens was the loss of their identity, so why not propose instead a charter that would give predominance to our (defined) values, such as the equality between men and women, the predominance of our traditional holidays such as Christmas, Easter, etc. The goal being to affirm that no complaint would be received against those established values and holidays. Christmas carols would be allowed to play in the malls during Christmas time, and so on. Such a charter could be named a “Charter of our Cultural Heritage and History”, or something like that. In other words, a secular charter would sound like something “against,” something entirely negative. A “charter of our traditional values” would sound like something “for” or “in favor of.” It would sound like something positive. The party’s president considered my intervention and said that if I could come up with a written proposition in the next ten minutes, they would pass a vote on it. I did, and the proposal was well received and accepted unanimously.
Now, strangely enough, the Parti Québécois (PQ) came up with the idea of changing the name of their secular charter for a name that sounds strangely familiar to what was on the PCQ platform. I tend to believe that my initial idea was taken from me, but there is also more to it than that.
Recent surveys have clearly shown that the issue of separation from Canada isn’t a priority for the majority of Quebec’s citizens anymore. Still, the PQ has gone on insisting that it is its priority. So my take on it is this: the PQ is coming up with a secular charter to garner support for an independent Quebec.
There’s really nothing new with the charter idea that France isn’t already doing. But by simply changing the name of the secular charter to a charter of values, the PQ may make the charter appear as a positive and protecting project—much as the PCQ would have done. They do this in such a way as to make most Quebecers embrace it, along with a renewed attachment to an almost forgotten desire for being “apart”. But the name change doesn’t hide the fact that this Charter isn’t protecting rights, but imposing secular ideas and potentially threatening rights. I contend that the PQ has stolen an idea for transforming a simple secular charter into a powerful tool for its own plan, which is far from what the PCQ had in mind.
Now, keep in mind that the PCQ has since changed its leader, and at this point, I’m not really considering working with them. I have been asked, but too much of the original vision of the party has changed, so this article isn’t written from a partisan point of view. I only write this to explain that, despite semantics, what Canada is witnessing in its midst is a dangerous attack against the liberty of a substantial sector of Canadian citizens.
Although the coming of a secular charter is concerning, what is even more unsettling is the thought that many Quebec citizens are entertaining such a charter and what it should contain.
It could be argued that secularism, or neutrality of religion, is something that should be part of the state. It could even be argued that such neutrality should be displayed by the state’s representatives. Of course, after that, we would need to determine at what point an individual whose salary is paid by the state is considered a state “representative.” I have written on this in the past.
But what should be made clear from the start is the following fact: in a place like Quebec, where the state pays for many services offered to its citizens, the beneficiary (citizen) should never be submitted to the same imposed neutrality as those who manage the service (the state), the latter being servant to the former. Also, said neutrality is to be present in the state’s offices but not in public spaces.
Most Quebec citizens do not seem to understand the difference between public services and public space. Public space does not belong to the state! Public space belongs to everyone, and it stands to reason that if anyone can wear a Budweiser t-shirt, or a shirt with a skull on its front, then anyone should have an equal right to wear a shirt with the name Jesus on it. There are already stories of Muslim women walking down the streets of Quebec being told to take off their hijabs. If they can do that to Muslims, of course they can do that to Christians. If this equality is questioned anywhere within our nation, we must absolutely make it a priority to attend to it. The future of the Gospel for our nation depends on it.
So, in this short post on secularism and neutrality, we’ve come up with many subjects that have to be tackled:
– Who is it for, exactly?
– When is it still only secularism, and when instead does it begin to be imposed atheism?
– Does it endanger the basic human right of liberty?
– For Quebec, how does this fit with the Canadian Charter? And, most interestingly, how does all this fit into Quebec’s special historic roots and perceived prejudice?
As you can see, there is much to discuss and much at play here. And I believe none has more to gain or lose here than the followers of Jesus Christ. This worries me because it is my deepest belief that if the church loses, then our whole nation loses.