The Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC), Canada’s only charity for science and secularism, has denounced Quebec’s so-called secularism law, Bill 21, that aims to ban the wearing of religious symbols by public sector employees. CFIC’s position is that in a secular society, faith or any strongly held belief cannot be used to justify special treatment, whether it is an exemption or sanction.
For example, we oppose instances where faith is used to justify special treatment in the form of exemptions, such as those in Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba which allows Sikhs, but not anyone else, to be exempt from the requirement to wear a motorcycle helmet. Similarly, CFI Canada opposes public funding of religious institutions such as the funding of Roman Catholic schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. CFIC is also opposed to giving publicly funded religious institutions special treatment such as permitting religious schools to opt out of Gay-Straight Alliances or faith-based hospitals’ exemption from providing medical assistance in dying.
A truly secular society also does not give special treatment in the form of a sanction, such as Quebec’s Bill 21. People, including public sector employees, should not be treated differently if they are part of a religion. Put simply, the state must always be neutral on issues of religious belief and must not treat someone differently because of their beliefs.
“The real issue is whether or not a public employee is recruiting others into their belief system while they are performing a public, secular role such as teaching school or issuing drivers licenses,” said Gus Lyn-Piluso, President of CFIC. “There is little indication that this is a significant problem in Quebec or anywhere else in Canada.”
A person is able to wear a religious symbol without recruiting people into their beliefs. They can also recruit people without wearing a symbol. The two ideas are not necessarily connected and you cannot address one by focusing on the other.
“Canadian secularists have always said even though we don’t believe in any religion, we’ll fight for your right to believe in what you want,” said Gus . “This bill does not build a more compassionate, secular and just society – it does exactly the opposite by enflaming religious intolerance in the public sector.”
CFIC works to build a more peaceful, inclusive and respectful society. As a multicultural society in Canada, it is essential that we treat all beliefs – including non-belief – equally and fairly. We actively support neutrality on matters of religious belief so that the conflicts, oppression and strife from around the world don’t find a new home in Canada.
We are Canada’s only national non-profit with the mission of promoting critical thinking, science and secularism.
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CFIC Communications Chair