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A Failed (Actual) Attack on Religious Freedom

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While Quebec secessionist has some progressive elements, it also has a seemingly ineluctable background of ethnic nationalism.  After the narrow defeat of the last secession referendum, the secessionist premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, offered a succinct explanation for the defeat: “C’est vrai, c’est vrai qu’on a été battus, au fond, par quoi? Par l’argent puis des votes ethniques, essentiellement.”  (Americans will be familiar with this logic from the classic assumption that Democratic majorities are too diverse and hence lacking in real voters to really count.) When Parizeau says “nous,” he doesn’t include “people of color or recent immigrants who are citizens of Quebec living in Montreal.”

The Parizeau element of the Parti Quebecois reappeared with a vengeance with the odious proposal of Bill 60.  Despite the cynical use of specious “religious freedom” arguments — featuring “burdens” on religious practice so trivial that the major litigant literally didn’t notice them until the Republican Party invented its latest ad hoc legal challenge to the ACA — to advance independent Republican policy goals, we shouldn’t forget that real threats to religious freedom exist.  Some elements of the bill (such as a proposed amendment affirming that religious freedom cannot trump gender equality) are potentially salutary depending on the execution, but here’s where I get off the bus:

The legislation, introduced by Bernard Drainville, the Minister for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship [my Orwellian discourse alarm is going off! –ed.], seeks to affirm the religious neutrality of the state, in particular by prohibiting public sector employees, including those working in hospitals, schools, daycares, and universities, from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols”.

I believe that neutral laws regulating conduct should not be subject to individual exemptions based on religious belief. Forcing secularism on individuals, however, is another matter entirely that goes beyond state neutrality to actually attack religious practice. And it’s not a coincidence that the heaviest burden will be borne by religious minorities who the Quebec nationalists tend to implicitly (and in some cases explicitly) exclude from the Quebecois political community.

So it’s gratifying to the party responsible for this demagoguery go down to an ignoble defeat, with Premier Marois unable to even hold her own seat. It reaffirms democratic values when an electoral majority is better than the political leadership it previously elected.

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