This value is also enshrined in human rights laws in many countries. Its interpretation, however, varies from place to place.
The French adopted a law in 1905 separating Church from State and promoting secularism, loosely translated as secularism. This was understandable given the abuses of religious power at that time, especially by the Catholic Church. A similar sentiment was adopted half a century later in Quebec for similar reasons, in what is known as the Quiet Revolution.
The problem is that France and Quebec are much more pluralistic today. Does secularism still apply or does it violate the religious freedoms of French and Quebec citizens?
Quebec’s Bill 21 was recently upheld by the province’s Superior Court. It prohibits officials, including teachers, from wearing anything that could be considered religious, including the Jewish kippah and the Muslim hijab. The French have a similar law, and the French Senate recently passed a bill prohibiting women under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public.
It is instructive to note the response to these laws, especially by Muslim women. French journalist Nadiya Lazzouni points out that wearing the hijab often makes her a target when traveling by public transport in Paris. She notes that a law of 1905 confirms her freedom to participate in this form of personal expression.
There has been an international response to the French bill. The #HandsOffMyHijab social media campaign has gone viral.
Islam was a source of strength and solidarity during the years of French rule in North Africa. The wounds of colonialism are still largely unhealed and Islam remains very important in people’s lives.
France and Quebec have the right to govern themselves as they see fit. We can understand the importance of secularism as a response to the religious oppression of past years. But does this correspond to the reality of the 21stpluralism of the century?
Many countries are grappling with the reality of religious diversity. Germany recently had a completely different response. When reports of Jewish men being attacked while wearing the kippah surfaced, thousands of non-Jewish Germans – including Foreign Minister Heiko Maas – began to wear the kippah in public to express their solidarity. with their Jewish neighbors.
Could an official in France or Quebec have been sanctioned for having done what Maas did?
Opposition to Bill 21 from outside Quebec can also be seen as a threat to Canada’s linguistic and cultural diversity. However, it is also true that there has been a lot of resistance to the law from members of public service unions who are most affected by these new policies. The most notable opposition came from French-speaking teachers in Quebec.
In France, the recently passed Senate bill is unlikely to have sufficient support in the other chamber of the legislature to become law.
As cultures come together in countries like France, Germany and Canada, questions arise about how best to get along. We have proven time and time again that we are better when every person is respected and every culture is celebrated. If we listen to each other, we will find out.
Diversity is strength and freedom of religious expression is a human right.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and working with students at risk. For interview requests, click here.
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