Ban. Forbid. Prohibit. Most would assume these words are associated with important issues like banning plastic bags, forbidding child marriage or prohibiting smoking in certain areas. Instead, Quebec is once again caught in a useless but ever-present debate about banning religious symbols.
The incoming Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government under François Legault is attempting to follow through on their campaign promise to ban religious symbols for civil servants in positions of authority. This includes preventing teachers, police officers and judges, among others, from wearing the Muslim hijab, the Sikh turban or the Jewish kippah. This isn’t the first time Quebec politicians have tried to forbid people from wearing religious symbols. In fact, it was only a year ago that the provincial government was debating Bill 62, which would have prevented civil servants from covering their faces when accessing public services. Initially, the CAQ said government employees who didn’t comply with the ban would be choosing between having a job and wearing a religious symbol. Following criticism from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and protests from others in Quebec, the CAQ has now stated that they are willing to compromise and only apply the ban to newly hired employees, according to The Globe and Mail. Frankly, this is appalling and downright frustrating.
Our schools and teachers must be diverse in order to reflect reality. When you walk down the streets of Montreal, you inevitably come across diversity. Why should walking down Quebec school hallways be any different? Preventing people from expressing their religious beliefs is oppressive and destructive to society’s progression. Having children taught by teachers who wear the Sikh turban helps to normalize religious diversity. A police officer who wears the hijab can help enforce the idea that your religious beliefs don’t hinder your ability to do your job well.
We at The Concordian wholeheartedly reject this atrocious ban; but more importantly, we reject the rhetoric behind it. While the CAQ and the ban’s supporters insist the ban is solely intended to achieve religious neutrality, it’s important to note where the ban is coming from. Simply put, it’s coming from a place of ignorance and intolerance.
It encourages the idea that people must be one and the same, that diversity and differences weaken our society rather than strengthen it. This is hateful, wrong and offensive to many. This ban is flawed in so many ways, and is hypocritical at its core. When asked if the crucifix in the National Assembly will stay, Legault replied that it’s not a religious symbol but rather part of Quebec’s heritage. “We have a cross on our flag,” he said, according to Global News. “I think that we have to understand our past. In our past we had Protestants, Catholics, they built the values we have in Quebec. It’s part of our history.”
How can a religious symbol—the crucifix—not be religious? It’s clear to us that this ban is based on senseless intolerance rather than actual facts and concrete arguments. It seems the CAQ wants to preserve one faith: Christianity. If the ban were truly applied to all facets of public civil service, it should be applied to the National Assembly as well. That’s only fair, right?
Although Christianity certainly played a historic role in establishing Quebec, it’s wrong to single out this one belief system as superior to other religions in Quebec. This logic is a product of the abuse and erasure of Indigenous peoples and culture. It is a result of what happened when colonialism, exploitation and racism collided and created chaos for a group of people.
Quebec’s past was forcefully Christian—other faiths were trampled upon and completely disregarded. Quebec’s present, however, is a multitude of faiths, belief systems and religious identities. Its future is in the hands of many people from different backgrounds who believe in different things. Banning their religious symbols and their ability to freely express themselves is not only oppressive, it’s regressive. We at The Concordian strongly encourage our fellow citizens to stand firm in rejecting this hypocritical, backwards, oppressive ban. Let’s fight for a future where diversity is celebrated, rather than forbidden.
Graphic by Ana Bilokin