Recommendations regarding Bill 60
AN OPEN LETTER
From the Protestant Partnership
Three questions to the government about the Charter
Since 1993, the Protestant Partnership – a co-operative initiative of Protestant denominations and congregations has been engaged in issues concerning faith in Québec’s public life, especially publically-funded education. With this letter, we want to look very seriously at Bill 60 because it raises questions of laïcité and living together.
It is obvious that a society needs to establish principles of reasonable accommodation for the integration of religious minorities into public life. We are glad there is an initiative to finally implement the recommendations of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission from 2008.
But the Partnership finds it critically important for the government to consider three questions as we move into the parliamentary commission on the Bill.
First, what does the government mean by “laïcité”? Protestants in Québec and across the Western World have been actively involved in this discussion where they are a religious minority. According to the 2011 census, Protestants are the largest religious minority in Québec. Laïcité is historically understood as the framework of legal and judicial arrangements for relationships between the State and religious groups – “groupes de convictions”, as the Comité des affaires religieuses stated in an Advice to the Minister of Education in 2003. In going far beyond the historical operative framework including the neutrality of the State, the separation of Church and State and the liberty of conscience and religion, this Bill gives the impression not of laïcité but of a “laïcisme” a sort of secular fundamentalism, a civil religion run by the State. What does the government understand by laïcité?
Second, how does the government understand neutrality? This Bill is so far-reaching that we fear that it will not be interpreted judicially as being fair and just towards religious minorities. In fact, the very neutrality of the State will be at risk for not respecting Article 3 and Article 10 of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Is this Bill fair and just towards religious minority groups? Without justice and fairness wouldn’t there be a weakening in the foundation of “neutrality”?
Finally, why this selective application concerning religious signs and symbols? Why does the Bill target Muslim women and not Muslim men wearing robes? Why the selection of certain public officials including Roman Catholic clergy, wearing crosses in Faculties of Theology? Why does the Bill only target ostentatious religious symbols while other symbols can conspicuously show one’s political, sectarian or union affiliation? Generally speaking, Protestants are not a people of overt religious symbols. There seems to be nothing in the Bill that directly affects the religious world and life view of our communities. However, standing in solidarity with others’ traditions, we find it imperative that the government re-examine these aspects of the Bill.
We call on the government to re-examine the Bouchard-Taylor report which we find much more comprehensive than this Bill. It provides a more exhaustive orientation to the issues than this Bill seems to do. The government also needs to listen to the 27-page advice from La Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. Why has the government not asked for an advice from the Comité des affaires religieuses?
The underlying assumption of this Bill appears to us to be that religion poisons everything. “It must be marginalized. We have to protect our children against its harmful effects!” We call on all Protestant denominations and congregations to demonstrate, as we have in our 450 years in Québec, that this is categorically false. We want to live out our faith in Jesus-Christ in our neighbourhoods, boroughs, workplace and cities with acts of grace, mercy and justice for all our fellow citizens, not just for ourselves.