On September 10, 2013, the Quebec government unveiled a proposed Charter of Values, to further their quest for a “neutral state”. As expected, unbridled controversy has sprung up throughout Canada, as people and leaders of all backgrounds respond to statements contained within the proposed Charter. I have looked through the Charter, and I have a few observations and thoughts of my own. In no particular order:
- The provincial government has repeatedly stated that their ultimate goal is to create a “neutral state”. While this may seem admirable at first glance, it seems to me that complete “neutrality” is both undesirable and impossible. Every person, and every state, has a bias of some sort; complete neutrality is impossible to achieve unless all independent thought is either suppressed or eliminated. The Quebec government’s proposed attempt to eliminate visible expressions of faith is anything but neutral; rather, it elevates one worldview (humanistic ideology) over all others (freedom of spirituality, diversity, etc). The government’s desired “neutral state” is not neutral.
- Proposal 3 (“prohibit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols”) reflects a deep misunderstanding of world religions and spirituality. I am a Protestant Christian, so physical symbols are not core to my daily faith; but to others this would be an offensive and discriminatory action for the government to take. For example, for Sikhs and Muslims, a turban or a hijab is not an accessory; it is a core expression of their faith. To tell a Sikh that he cannot wear his turban is to tell him that he cannot be a Sikh. It seems that the government of Quebec does not understand the essence of many of the world’s major religions. If the proposed Charter came into effect, and if I was a Sikh or a Muslim and worked within any level of government, in any school, in health care, or social services, I would be forced to choose between practicing my faith or having a job (but I couldn’t have both). That would be neither freedom nor neutrality.
Unity or Uniformity?
- The Charter of Values confuses unity with uniformity. Seeking a united culture is an admirable goal, and every government would do well to pursue it. Attempting to enforce a uniform culture, though, crosses the line toward oppression. As history has shown us, when a government tries to create a single homogenous culture through legislation and force, they start down a very dangerous path.
- Once religious symbols are banned, it is not a stretch to see that religious practices could also be banned (prayer, public gatherings, freedom of expression of religious beliefs and values, etc). Again, the path ahead looks more like increased oppression than freedom or neutrality.
Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values, with its goal of arbitrarily banning and restricting religious clothing and symbols is a misguided and oppressive attempt to universally enforce cultural conformity, while trying to hide behind the impossible illusion of a neutral state. I am all for unity within and among cultures, but any attempt of this kind to enforce uniformity cannot be accepted.
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PS. The four “fleur de-lis” on the Quebec flag have a strong religious background (centuries of belief that the fleur-de-lis represents the Virgin Mary and/or the Trinity) – I wonder if they would be considered “overt and conspicuous” and would have to be removed?