On Tuesday September 11, Bernard Drainville, Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship in Quebec, introduced in the National Assembly a Charter of Quebec Values.
This bill would ban the wearing of visible religious symbols by all government employees while on the job. If passed this new law will make it illegal for judges, police, prosecutors, public daycare workers, teachers, school employees, hospital workers, and municipal personnel to wear at work: kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs, “large” crosses, or presumably Buddhist Mala beads.
According to Mr. Drainville the rationale for this proposal is that “If the state is neutral, those working for the state should be equally neutral in their image.”
I do not want to live in a neutral state. I want to live in a respectful state.
In a respectful state, as long as my behaviour does no obvious harm to any other person, the state will do everything in its power to protect my right to freely choose how I decide to live. If I choose to have my nose pierced and my neck tattooed, a respectful state will honour this choice, even if my choice may cause discomfort to another person.
In Mr. Drainville’s “neutral state” protection for government employees is accorded only to those who present themselves as “neutral”. If my deepest held beliefs dictate that I should not go out in public with my head exposed, a “neutral” state will refuse to protect my right to this harmless choice.
The Parti Quebecois “neutral” state is not “neutral”; it is biased towards those who either have no religious practice, or whose religious practices can be comfortably confined to the private sphere.
A respectful state does not attempt to hide differences in worldview and practice. In a respectful state, diversity is celebrated and affirmed. Citizens in a respectful state are invited into conversation; we learn together and are enriched by our encounter with different opinions and diverse lifestyles.
The Parti Quebecois argues that in a “neutral state” no one needs to feel coerced by the choices a person in a position of authority may make. It is profoundly disrespectful to suggest that a Sikh wearing a turban at work is attempting force his religion on another person.
In a respectful state no one needs to feel afraid of those whose choices may make them appear different from the majority. A respectful society is inhabited with citizens who feel supported enough in their own choices and beliefs that they are able to allow others to follow the practices of their faith or lack of faith.
A child raised in a respectful state will feel empowered to enter into a profound conversation with her parents by any questions that may be raised if her teacher chooses to wear a hijab in the classroom.
What possible harm could be done to a child who is caused to ask questions because his teacher arrives in class wearing a kippa?
A society is profoundly impoverished when the necessity for conversation is curtailed by the pretense that differences do not exist.
In a respectful state, all citizens can feel secure in living the lives they feel compelled to live because they know the state exists to protect their right to choose, within the bounds of respect and safety, the beliefs and practices they desire for their lives. These are things about which no person should be “neutral”.
Christopher Pageis the rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay, and the Archdeacon of Tolmie in the Anglican Diocese of B.C. He writes regularly at:
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog,, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was also published on Faith Forum in the Times Colonist print and online editions on Sept 14 2013