The Quebec Values Charter: religious freedom or “militant secularism”

Heather Greene —  September 22, 2013 — 58 Comments

On September 17 a Mcgill University student released a video taken of a man and woman engaged in a heated argument on a crowded public bus. According to a Huffington Post report, the argument began when the woman who was wearing a hijab boarded the bus.  Almost immediately the man began to harass her, demanding that she “remove her headscarf or return to her country.”  The unpleasantries continued for almost ten minutes. The man accused her of being associated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and “criticiz[ed] the lack of Muslim integration into society.” In his “rant,” he said that Quebec’s Premier, Pauline Marois, would make her remove that “hat.”

The altercation on the bus is not an isolated incident. CTV, local Canadian television, reports that “more victims are coming forward” and the victims are not always individuals. On September 2 the Mosque in Saguenay was attacked and allegedly sprayed with pigs blood. The Muslim Council of Montreal said that it was distressed “to repeatedly see such attacks.”

What is fueling the increase in attacks? Many blame the usual suspects: Islamaphobia, xenophobia, bigotry and even racism.  However, the picture is more complicated than a single identifiable hatred of a particular religious or cultural group.  As implied by the man’s rant, the answer lies in the politics of Pauline Marois and le Parti Quebecois (PQ).

On September 10, Marois and Bernard Drainville, minister of Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, revealed PQ’s plans to institute a Charter of Values (la chartre de valeur.)  According to the Minister’s web site, the Charter would do the following five things:

  1. Amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
  2. Establish a duty of neutrality and reserve for all state personnel
  3. Limit the wearing of all conspicuous religious symbols
  4. Make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service
  5. Establish an implementation policy for State organizations.

The first statement seeks to “entrench the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of public institutions within the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”  The second statement establishes, by law, “religious neutrality and reserve for all state personnel in carrying out their duties.” The fifth allows for the implementation of programs supporting the other points.  Taken alone, these statements appear to support Canada’s national policy of multi-culturalism.

The problem lays in points three and four. The proposed Values Charter would require all civil servants at any level including teachers and “personnel in ministries,” to remove their “conspicuous and overt religious symbols.”  This includes the hijabs, burqas, kippas (yarlmulke), turbans, large religious pendants and the like. If this proposal is passed, Marois and her party will have indeed forced some citizens to remove their “hats.”

Informational graphic from the Quebec government

Informational graphic from the Quebec government

Minister Drainville explains:

le gouvernement propose d’exprimer de manière officielle cette réalité : celle de la séparation de l’État et des religions. Sa démarche est guidée par les valeurs fondamentales qui animent la société québécoise : la laïcité des institutions de l’État, l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et la primauté du français. Parmi ces valeurs, seule la laïcité de l’État n’a pas encore été consacrée dans un texte législatif.

Loosely translated, the Quebec Government wants to legally establish the current and fundamental Quebec ideological and political reality of “the Separation of Church and State.” The work is guided by fundamental values that drive Quebec society: secularism of institutions, equality between men and women and the primacy of the French language. Among these values, only secularism hasn’t been legislated.

In tying the Values Charter to the successful legal protection of the French language, Parti Quebecquois is demonstrating a powerful interest in preserving Quebec’s unique culture.  While the reasoning may be “fierce nationalism,” one question remains – at what or whose expense? How far will the identity-politics go to preserve tradition?

A growing number of opponents call the Values Charter a basic attack on religious freedom. On September 14 people of many religions filled the streets of Montreal to protest the proposed legislation.  The event was organized by le Collectif Quebecois contre l’islamophobie. In attendance was, Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal who told the Montreal Gazette that he was “Delighted” at the turnout.

Jonathan Kay, an op-ed columnist for  Canada’s National Post  called Marois and PQ’s politics a “brand of militant secularism” accusing the party of “embracing a fallback position of prioritizing secular homogeneity over the demands of newly emergent minority religious communities.” Amanda Strong, a long-time Pagan Montreal resident, former editor of WynterGreene and WitchyWays blogger, agrees that the politics are a complicated chess match with a strong historical component.  She explains,

Before the 1960s, Catholicism permeated everything in Quebec from education to healthcare to policy making.  It was a horrible time in Quebec history and was especially oppressive to the French Quebecers. Then, French Quebecers rebelled…Quebec overtly moved towards a secular society. So Separation of church and state in this province is *very* emotionally charged.  

Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers

In response to claims of “militant secularism,” Minister Drainville counters by saying, “If this was a good idea for Catholics in the ’60s, why is it not a good idea for all religions fifty years later?”  Making a similar point, Brendan Myers, a Quebec Druidic Humanist and Philosophy Professor writes on his own blog, “Premier Pauline Marois’ Charter of Quebec Values doesn’t do much that hasn’t already been done.”

Since that cultural rebellion termed “the Quiet Revolution” accommodations have been made to in various situations. Over time the number and type of accommodations were called into question by Quebecers. In 2007, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was formed to investigate the situation and make recommendations for “reasonable accommodations.”   Considering this background, the new Values Charter appears to be yet another step in a long drawn-out process of firmly establishing a secular Quebec society.

Natache Laland

Natache Laland

However, is mandated secularism really a step towards religious freedom? Natacha Lalande, a Wiccan practitioner from Magog Quebec, does’t believe it is. She says,

I am against some accommodations they have been doing like the story where a group asked others to leave the building so they could pray. It was disrespectful as their religion did not require they pray right before eating. But wearing a big pentagram necklace or a Jewish cap for example is not harmful to anybody. It is their right to wear them as they wish and should remove it only by their own decision and not be forced.

Amanda Strong agrees adding that, if passed, the Charter would not significantly affect most Pagans in Quebec. However, “the charter does affect … freedom of religious expression and, like any religion; we should be concerned about that. It also creates a culture of exclusion, which I feel is in direct contrast to most Pagan values of inclusion and acceptance.”

Additionally, Brendan Myers, who strongly supports the value of secularism, makes a very important observation. He says,

For a charter that supposedly is about secularism, there’s rather a lot of exceptions for “traditional Quebec values”. And most of those exceptions, suspiciously, involve Roman Catholic symbols, including the huge Catholic crucifix which hangs in the Quebec national assembly chamber, and the giant illuminated cross that stands at the summit of the mountain in Montreal. This strikes me as a little bit hypocritical.

A recent Time Magazine article made that very same point.  In response, Minister Drainville said, “Quebec is not a blank page…Building our future shouldn’t come at the expense of our past, our heritage.”

Are the Parti Quebecquois’ identity-politics solidifying “nationalism” by creating tension within its population? Is it capitalizing on an underlying Islamaphobia or xenophobia to promote its own agenda of separatism?

While those two questions are specific to Quebec, there are broader questions lurking beneath the surface. Where do we draw the lines for religious accommodations? Is it fair for Alberta to require Hutterites to have photos on their licenses? Should Canada have allowed Sikh Mounties to wear turbans?  When has the State gone too far?  When has religious expression placed a burden on society?  As we move further into this post-Christian era, these questions become more poignant. How do we support a healthy religious pluralism while retaining a connection to our cultural heritage without crippling our governing bodies to the point of being completely ineffective in maintaining our society?


Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I think that there needs to be an important distinction made between religious accessorising and religious observance.

    In the case of the crucifix, the pentagram and even the hijab, these are not things a person has to wear as a faithful adherent of their religion. They are option accessories that some like to wear.

    Other things, such as the turban or kippah, are mandatory articles of faith. We can also include the kirpan here, for those baptised Sikhs. (There is also a compelling argument for the spear, axe, sword and knife for a devout Heathen, if they follow the teachings of Hávamál.)

    If the former category are banned, that is of no consequence. Banning the latter, however, is a direct case of religious discrimination, since people will not be able to follow the mandates of their religion without negative social consequence.

    • Nick Ritter

      “There is also a compelling argument for the spear, axe, sword and knife for a devout Heathen, if they follow the teachings of Hávamál.”

      That’s actually something that I’ve pondered for a long time, and was a major factor in my decision to study martial arts: if my body is my weapon, then I am never separated from my weapon.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        If I could convince enough Heathens here to do it, I would definitely never leave the house without a sword on my hip.

        • TadhgMor

          That’s not legal in the States, but I’ve had the same thought.

          At the very least I’d keep a knife on me (I could see a sword making it hard for me to sit in class).

          • Faoladh

            Depends where you’re at, actually. There was a guy in Seattle who managed (after much legal fighting and dealing with critical police interest) to work out a way to carry a sword with him on a daily basis. I am not aware at this time of all of the specific details, but I do remember seeing him walking around on several occasions.

          • That’s what I do. I just made sure it was 1/8″ shorter than the legal limit for concealed carry here.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Yet many can carry concealed guns. Where is the logic?

          • TadhgMor

            There isn’t any.

            As far as I know concealed guns are legal in many states, an open carry legal in more, but protections for edged weapons are extremely limited.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol


    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Banning of a pentagram is an act of anti-Pagan religious discrimination, whether or not wearing the device is mandated in Pagan religion.Women in hijabs are complying with their own enculturated sense of decency. A parallel could be made with the practice of most Western women of covering their breasts.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Banning the wearing of a pentagram would be an act of anti-Pagan discrimination. Banning the wearing of all religious accessories is not.

        Women in hijabs are following a cultural ideal, not a religious one. The point is important as it could be argued that, even with the banning of religious items, the hijab could still be worn, as it is cultural, not religious.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          The ban is on “conspicuous and overt” religious symbols, which leaves interpretation squarely in the eye of the beholder, and we already know whose symbols would be judged that way. The Jim Crow US South fifty years ago had laws that were superficially equal in application, but in fact were focused on Blacks — eg, you were excused from a literacy test for voting if your grandfather had voted.The distinction between cultural and religious is awfully fuzzy in Muslim lands but, granting the point, what is to be made of superficially “cultural” discrimination that works out as religious discrimination? See previous paragraph. In any event, why would one want a rule that banned certain dress items? That is the mark of a socially authoritarian society, quite at odds with Pagan interests.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            So, if you are told not to wear your pentacle or crucifix ‘overtly’, tuck it into your top. Problem solved.

            Not every law is an attack on Paganism. Some are attacks on religion in general.

            I don’t see a problem with cultural discrimination in the right context. I prefer cultural assimilation. If people don’t like it, they can go to where their culture of preference is based.

            It isn’t racism or culturalism. It is simply being territorial.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            So, if you are told not to wear your pentacle or crucifix ‘overtly’, tuck it into your top. Problem solved. Knuckling under to repression is hardly solving the inherent problem. With this kind of aggression, that sort of partial compliance can, on the contrary, whet their appetite.It isn’t racism or culturalism. It is simply being territorial.Fallacy of the Excluded Middle. It can be racist and territorial at the same time.

          • Franklin Evans

            I generally reject slippery-slope arguments, though I do have some sympathy for the rational support they can find. It’s never an all-or-nothing proposition, of that I’m sure.
            My guideline is courtesy. It can apply both to how others will react and to how much of that reaction is worth the effort. If “tucking it in” keeps my daily journey relatively drama-free, I can’t avoid seeing objections to it being based more on ego than on freedom of expression.
            “In their faces” is rarely a constructive path to acceptance. 🙁

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            If everyone in your environment is tucking in their crosses, crucifixes and Mogen Davids, then you live in a courteous, non-confrontational situation in which you are an equal. If not, you don’t. How you deal with that internally is your affair and I wish you the spiritual courage to cope. But it doesn’t change the social facts.

          • Franklin Evans

            I’m right with you there. My further thought, not intended to be argumentative, is that we are challenged to both cope and adapt. The social facts, a well-taken way of putting it, will change abruptly as we move about. Our successful coping can also make us vulnerable to those differences, and our ability to adapt can be stymied by our reliance on our previous success. I don’t cite ego to be critical, but to suggest that our awareness of its influence can be a big step towards being adaptable.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            What is the ‘inherent problem’?

            “It can be racist and territorial at the same time.”
            It could be, but in the context I was using, it very much wasn’t.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            The inherent problem is orchestrated further marginalization of minorities.We must agree to disagree regarding your second paragraph.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            If you want, but I don’t appreciate being called racist.

    • Rhoanna

      Many women who wear hijab consider it necessary for their religion, specifically complying with Islam’s mandate of modest dress. It’s not your place, or Quebec’s place, to judge whether or not that’s an accurate interpretation of Islam.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Many women are wrong.

    • Folcwald

      I assume the Havamal verse you refer to is the following (Bellows Translation):

      38. Away from his arms | in the open field
      A man should fare not a foot;
      For never he knows | when the need for a spear
      Shall arise on the distant road.

      This does not really say anything about axe, sword or knife, only about ‘arms’ in general and then specifically a spear. I take it to recommend that one always be armed with the type of arm that is appropriate, which today is generally a pistol. This is why I refuse to live or as far as I can manage, to travel where I am not allowed to carry a pistol. However, the status of the Havamal, as a work of what scholars call gnomic wisdom (having, unfortunately, nothing to do with the little statues in the garden), not a list of laws, means that one cannot really argue that anything in it is required of any heathen, only that it represents things that were taken to be good ideas by ancient heathens and thus, as wisdom, came to be associated with the god of wisdom, Odin.
      To take the contents of the Havamal as a series of commandments is to misunderstand the nature of the work and, I suspect, is often a result of held-over Christian ideology, or at least of seeking after something in heathenry which is not there: something like the Ten Commandments or the book of Leviticus.
      Thus, when my place of employment refuses to let me have a pistol on me at work, which they have every legal right to do in my state even though I have a permit to carry, I have no real religious recourse and cannot claim religious discrimination, unfortunately.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I will not go into this too much, but I will say that I do not see the gun as qualifying as a weapon of war (“arms”) in Germanic culture.

        I also do not see any problem with using Hávamál as a basis for a spiritual code. After all, the so-called “Nine Noble Virtues” are gleaned from it.

      • Deborah Bender

        I think it’s debatable whether “open field” and “distant road” properly apply to a settled community where organized law enforcement exists.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Here, have another translation:

          Hávamál 38.
          Let a man never stir on his road a step
          without his weapons of war;
          for unsure is the knowing when need shall arise
          of a spear on the way without.

          (Translation Olive Bray)

          • Nick Ritter

            Oh, let me have a go!

            First the original:

            Vápnom sínom· skala maðr velli á
            feti ganga framarr
            þvíat óvist er at vita· nær verðr á vegom úti
            geirs um þörf guma.

            My best literal translation is this:

            “A man should not go further than a step (or “foot”) from his weapons on the field; because it is uncertain to know when a spear shall become needed to a man out on the ways.”

            So, to Folcwald’s point, the word “vápnom” (dative plural of vápn, “weapon”), can refer to any weapons. The qualifier “of war” is added in the Bray translation to help the meter. Similarly, the qualifiers “open” (field) and “distant” (way) don’t exist in the original either.

            Here’s is where I would normally insert my wonted grumblings about the lack of a good, literal translation of Eddic poems to which Heathens and other interested parties can refer, but I’ll defer that for now.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I have a bilingual literal (word for word) translation of Bēoƿulf (by John Porter, published by Anglo-Saxon Books). I would absolutely love to have a copy of the Poetic Edda that was presented in the same way. It would be invaluable.

          • Nick Ritter

            I’ve been working on such a thing for a few years. Hopefully, someday, it will be in a fit state to publish.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I look forward to it.


    Pagan Religions show no tendency to expriopriate every aspect of personal life. I deem them rather an ideology, an attitude towards oneself, society and Nature.

    On the opposite side of the fence are Abrahamic (=concocted by Jews) Judaism, Christianity and Islam which develop indefinately liturgization and control over adherents (even the content of their wardrobe!) and seek for new field of expansion (this does not pertain Judaism for some reason).

    This man is not offended by a hijab, it is not vulgar at all. He knows that Muslims are not going to integrate with society, they want to destroy it and establish their rules as a law. He is afraid of a “Muslim crusade”!

    When Abrahamic Religions are over, Religious freedom will be an axiom. But as long as some denominations try to attract (forcibly or through argumentation) or overcome (using deceit or military ways) non-believers, the discussion is idle and aimless.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Where did you get the idea that Islam was concocted by Jews? What is your evidence that the woman on the bus was trying to overthrow Quebec society? These are both suggestions of serious prejudice on your part.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        He didn’t say that Islam was concocted by Jews, he said that Abrahamic faith was. Which is technically true, since Abraham is considered a Jew.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Eh? He says right in his post “concocted by Jews.” Islam is an Abrahamic religion because it holds the Old Testament account to be true, not because it was invented by Jews.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            He did not say that Islam was concocted by Jews. It is impossible to deny that all three religions (there are other, smaller ones, too) trace to the same source and that Judaism is the ‘original’ form from which the others come.

            “Concocted” is a somewhat provocative word, but remove the stigma and we see that all religions are concocted (created) by someone at some point.

          • I would say that ‘concocted’ is more than just provocative. It has an unsavory sound of echoing the old anti-semitic canard that Jews are pulling the strings behind the scenes and orchestrating events all over the world.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In context, I would agree that is the sound and implication. not great.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Read his post. I’m not going to say this again.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I did.


        Charles Cutler Torrey “The Jewish Foundation of Islam”
        James Windrow Sweetman “Islam and Christian Theology”

        According to tradition, Quran was dictated to Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel (do you know that character?). We know that “Archangel” was in fact a Rabbi. Islam was a Jewish response to Christianity that was dynamically growing in strenght during the Middle Ages and Muhammad (as a merchant he has a lot of acquaintances among Jews) wilingly clothed in robes of “Messiah”. Eh, please, read those bookes I’ve mentioned before.

        “What is your evidence that the woman on the bus was trying to overthrow Quebec society?”

        Please, don’t riducule, I didn’t say anything like that. The woman belongs to community that wants to overthrow global non-muslim society (somehow Quebec is not enough).
        And maybe I am biased, but prove that I am WRONG.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Sorry, I don’t have the time for conspiracy theorists.

          • thelettuceman

            I’ve got tinfoil! We’re safe!

        • TadhgMor

          That is not historical at all. We don’t “know” the Archangel was a Rabbi.

          “Overthrow global non-muslim society”…you’re dangerously close to bigotry with that sentence. I suggest you step back from it.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “If this was a good idea for Catholics in the ’60s, why is it not a good idea for all religions fifty years later?”Because there’s a difference between lifting the yoke of an encrusted dominant religion and stomping religious minorities that irritate some of the secular majority.As to whether Quebec separatists are using this issue to solidify majority national identity, that is exactly what Hitler did in Germany with the Jews 80 years ago.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Godwin’s Law.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        We no longer live in an internet where that stupid barrier to Third Reich topics serves any function.

        • Faoladh

          And anyway, it is a descriptive law (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”), not prescriptive, despite various prescriptive corollaries that various online communities choose to enact.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          We no longer live in a world where comparing anything to Hitler really has much meaning. After all, he did plenty right, too. (Even if that is only the VW brand.)

          I am not about to support Hitler, have no fears about that. I merely do not see how comparison to his actions necessarily implies anything more.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            The point of the comparison is to show where a given kind of action can lead by providing an historical example. This one happens to be dead-on: Scapegoating a religious minority. I don’t see what’s difficult about this.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Because this is different. It is not scapegoating a religious minority. That is the important thing here. This is about applying something equally to all religions.

            It is about not treating any religion better than any other.

            I am not necessarily saying I agree with it (or not), I am merely saying that this is not scapegoating and is not discriminatory.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            It is scapegoating a religious minority as it is applied.Pardon me for getting second-person on you, but you seem to have a problem with English reading comprehension of pretty simple messages.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I will ignore the ad hominem, and simply ask how is this targeting a religious minority? If all religions are equally covered by this secular law, how is it aimed at only a minority?

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Because Presbyterians don’t wear head scarves.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Perhaps not, but Plymouth Brethren do. Sikhs wear turbans, Jews have Kippahs…

            I addressed this in my first post. There is a big difference between prohibiting the (obvious/open) wearing of religious accessories, such as a crucifix (that a Presbyterian may wear), and the prohibition of religious articles, such as a turban (that a Sikh might wear).

            Again, this is not just an attack against one minority faith. It is a law that will have the potential to impact anyone of faith.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I have already explained that this law on headgear is, in context, aimed at Muslim women, prima facie.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            This is not, specifically, a law on headgear:

            “The proposed Values Charter would require all civil servants at any level including teachers and “personnel in ministries,” to remove their “conspicuous and overt religious symbols.” This includes the hijabs, burqas, kippas (yarlmulke), turbans, large religious pendants and the like.”

            It is not just aimed at Muslim women. Sikh men are also affected, as are Jewish Men, anyone wanting to wear a cross around their neck…

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    I hate Harassment of any kind, and I see this as a double harassment. This oh so brave man is simply an excuse to harass a woman. You can bet he would not dare try it with a man. There are some extremist Muslims, but that never justifies and attack on all Muslims, especially the ones that are not causing your problems. We have Muslims in my small town and I have never seen anyone harass them, so why is it okay to do it in a city for whatever reason? What did he accomplish of value by his harangue against the women. Simply a coward acting as a bully. What bothered me more was the rest of the people not reacting. Allowing someone to mistreat anyone is making it more dangerous as a society. If you don’t stand up for others, who is going to stand up when it is you being harassed.

  • Phae

    While this issue CAN be a complicated one, in this specific instance, it isn’t. Quebec is trying to force minorities (and anyone who wouldn’t vote for the Parti Quebecois) out of the province. It isn’t any different than when they tried to force all the English speakers to leave by pushing through their “language laws”. It’s about gathering power and getting rid of those who could threaten their place in provincial politics.

    However, I do think that there is a good chance that the NDP can stop this. If the Bloq were still in power, I would be a lot more worried.