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Québec Charter of Values: Not Neutral By Adèle Keim, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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By Adèle Keim, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

The furor over Québec’s proposed “Charter oValeurs_depliant_version_longue-7.jpgf Values” continues to grow: it has been criticised by the Québec Human Rights Commission and linked to a rise in attacks on women wearing the hijab, while on the other side, some Québécoise women have taken to the streets to defend it.

The most controversial aspect of the proposed Charter is the ban on state employees–from doctors to daycare workers–wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols. The Québec government has published a poster to explain what this means: small pendants, rings, and earrings are ok, but turbans, headscarves, kippas, and large crosses are not.

The Québec government touts the Charter of Values as a way to maintain “religious neutrality.” But as McGill University Professor Charles Taylor points out in a recent debate, that promise is illusory.

Taylor argues that proposed Charter’s ban on “conspicuous” religious clothing is not neutral, because “religions are different.” Take Sikhs, for example: for over 300 years, all Sikh men have worn long, unshorn hair covered by a turban. Yet the proposed Charter forbids state employees from wearing a turban. Taylor asks, “if you’re a Sikh, how do you maintain your religion if you take off your turban?” Instead of recognizing this difference and accommodating Sikh employees, the proposed Charter in effect says “to make it appear neutral we will make it in fact non-neutral.” Thus, Taylor concludes, “the neutrality of the state isn’t neutrality at all, because it clearly discriminates between religions.” You can find the entire debate, which is well worth watching, here.

Taylor is clearly right. The proposed Charter reflects a false version of neutrality, one that seeks to expel religious expression from the public square, rather than accommodate it. Québec would do well to reject it.