Archbishop fears Quebec government’s secularism bill will erode freedoms

Archbishop Christian Lepine is seen in his office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The Quebec government’s move to legislate on secularism will come at the expense of individual freedoms, Montreal’s archbishop said Thursday.

READ MORE: Quebec English school group denounces Bill 21 as ‘unethical, unnecessary’ ahead of public testimony

Archbishop Christian Lepine said in a statement that while the state must demonstrate neutrality, it must also demonstrate an openness and acceptance towards all its citizens.

Quebec’s Bill 21 would prohibit public servants in positions of authority — including primary and secondary school teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards — from wearing religious symbols on the job.

WATCH BELOW: Human chain against Bill 21

Click to play video: 'Human chain against Bill 21' Human chain against Bill 21
Human chain against Bill 21 – May 5, 2019

Premier François Legault’s government has also invoked the notwithstanding clause in the Constitution that would block people from challenging the law the over rights violations.

Story continues below advertisement

“How can one not see that the prohibition against wearing religious symbols is both an obstacle to upholding freedom of conscience and religion, as well as an attack on human dignity, since citizens would be required to conceal their religious identity in the name of a presumed neutrality?” Lepine said.

“A state that claims to be neutral in this subjective fashion cannot really claim to respect the dignity of its citizens because society and its diverse members are not neutral.”

He pointed to the government’s plan to extend the bill to teachers as an example, raised by the Quebec Assembly of Catholic Bishops in March.

“If teachers cannot wear religious signs at their discretion, the message given to children and youth is that religion has no place in the public sphere, thus relegating those adhering to their religious practice or tradition as second-class citizens,” he said.

WATCH BELOW: Montreal Mayor and English school boards speak at Bill 21 hearings

Click to play video: 'Bill 21 hearings: Montreal Mayor and English school boards are heard' Bill 21 hearings: Montreal Mayor and English school boards are heard
Bill 21 hearings: Montreal Mayor and English school boards are heard – May 14, 2019

Public hearings into the bill wrap up in Quebec City on Thursday and Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette wants to see the bill passed by mid-June.

Story continues below advertisement

Lepine said taking away individual freedoms in the name of state neutrality is a slippery slope.

READ MORE: Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante speaks at Bill 21 parliamentary hearings

“Relativizing the individual freedoms of citizens in the name of establishing the separation of religion and state and of upholding religious neutrality is a dangerous drift towards a closed form of secularism that tends towards the gradual elimination of individual and collective public expressions of belonging to a religious or faith community,” Lepine said.

Instead, Lepine suggested the government promote a form of secularism where the state preserves, protects and promotes freedoms in the public sphere, allowing for a constructive dialogue in mutual respect.

Sponsored content