Proposed Quebec’s secular charter could be dangerous

A proposed Quebec secular charter is not only silly but dangerous

It strange how people who claim to be secular, are quick to distortion as it suits their political purpose.

This week Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marios, said if elected she would enact a bill that would force an exclusion of all religious symbols in public. Unless it’s the Christian crucifix.

Since the “silent revolution” of the 1960s, a decade in which the then dominant Roman Catholic Church (RCC) lost her power in Quebec, secularity as a promoted ideology has become the social and political de rigure in not only Quebec but much of Canada.

Secular in part means the exclusion of religious institutions from running government. The secular movement in Quebec in the 1960s was a decided government policy to exclude the Roman Catholic Church from her influence in running schools, influencing public policy and being favoured by government. Quebec was the forerunner of the now secular Canadian province.

As a Christian, secular is good in this sense: Canada is a secular (free from religious organization control), liberal (freedom for the individual) democracy (freedom of citizens to vote for political leaders). I don’t want any religion to run the country. I celebrate human rights. I value democracy, while messy, is as one has noted, the best option.

Secularism is another issue. As an idea, it advocates that religious ideas (as contrasted to the secular notion of excluding religious institutions) have no place in the public sphere. So one can be a Jew, Muslim or Christian but required to leave their faith at the door.

A secular government I support. Iran, the opposite is religious. However secularism I oppose. A person’s religious views by nature must influence what they do in serving the public sphere. MPs who identify as Christian without exception say their faith influences what they say and do. Who should be surprised? Not their religious or church institution, but what they believe. Here is the distinction of secular and secularism.

Not to Quebec and Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marios. Try and follow her logic. What she wants is to enact a secular charter which will guarantee that the state has no bias to any religion. So what is driving this? Hasn’t the state got what it wanted in stripping the RCC of its power and influence? Aha. But that is the least of her worries. With the secular battle won, she now turns to another. Unnamed but surely understood. Muslims. Their presence seems to be feared. Their religious symbols aggravating. While little is explicit, her concern about “retrograde currents” is vividly implicit; uncommonly similar to the code of conduct proposed by the town of Hérouxville that Muslim women were not to wear face veils.

The bizarre twist in this story is that Madam Marois proposes – contrary to classic secular thought – that a crucifix will remain in place at the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Who so? Because, for her, this is a cultural symbol. What she has done is turn what is deeply religious, at the core of one’s faith into a cultural icon. Supposedly this frees it from its religious identity and allows it to stand inside her convoluted definition of what is now “secular.” She wants her steak without killing the steer: keep in favor with Québeckers who have emotional attachment to Christianity by retaining the crucifix while feeding the bias of those who resent the arrival of those of another faith.

Well that may be politics in Quebec, but for others it provides ammunition in worlds where public symbols can bring death. Canada, a model of being both secular and religiously plural, demonstrates how each religion has legitimacy to practice and promote their faith within the law.

With one flash of an unhindered brain wave, she gave rational to those who say they must limit Christian freedoms because their presence and symbols fly in the face of their culture. While in Egypt – a country with the oldest continuing Christian community – I learned of Christians being vilified and killed because they had the temerity to advance their faith and make public their own symbols. Surrounded by an Islamic culture – Christians make up 12% – the Christian community argues for a fairness rooted in the notion of secular government and one in which freedom of religion allows for equal opportunity of their faith influencing the public square.

Madame Marois’ logic is contradictory and perverse. It fails the test of building a secular democracy in Quebec, but even more hurtful outside of Canada, it gives argument others can use to bolster their own demagoguery and anti Christian policies and riots.

Surely within the brain trust of the Parti Québécois there are some who will see the barbarity of such a policy and persuade its leaders that building freedom for all, while bringing some change to the culture – in the end culture is always enroute, never static – will enhance its province, people and reputation.

Brian C. Stiller: Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance

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