The government of the province said the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, as the law is named, promoted state neutrality on religion, including among those who work in the public sector. "That is why the government of Quebec is proposing to ban public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols during work hours," Bernard Drainville, Quebec’s minister of democratic institutions, said at a press conference. Those included "very obvious symbols" which "send a clear message: 'I am a believer and this is my religion,'" he added.
The proposed law would ban prominent crucifixes, all manner of Islamic covering, Sikh turbans and Jewish skullcaps but would allow public workers to wear discreet religious symbols including small crucifixes or a Star of David. The ban would not apply to elected officials because people have a right to choose their representation, Drainville said.
The Parti Quebecois has no overall majority in the Quebec legislature and must win support from another party in order to enact the measure, and officials say it would be introduced for debate later this year.
Strong criticism from Jewish community, federal government
Political and religious leaders voiced opposition to the measure.
“It is unacceptable and will only serve to inflame civil discourse,” the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Canadian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, said in a strongly worded statement. The proposed legislation is “discriminatory, arbitrary, provocative and will sow the seeds of division that the government claims it wishes to avoid.CIJA said the Quebec government "is rehashing old, out-of-context stories in order to generate support for the unwarranted attack on the basic rights and freedoms of Quebecers.” The statement added that “The prohibition on wearing religious symbols in the public and para-public service is not justified and would exclude a large number of Quebecers. The role of the state should be to bring people together, not to divide them."
CIJA counters that the separation of church and state is well entrenched and there’s no need for new laws.
“The prohibition on wearing religious symbols in the public and para-public service is not justified and would exclude a large number of Quebecers. The role of the state should be to bring people together, not to divide them,” it says.
The federal government has said it would seek legal advice on the issue. "If it's determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously," Federal Minister Jason Kenney said.
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