CNS PHOTO | COURTESY OF ARCHDIOCESE OF MONTREAL
Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine says the Charter of Quebec Values would undermine the freedom to live in a society with different value systems.
Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine has warned against enshrining Quebec values in a charter.
Once Quebec "values" are enshrined in a charter, they are "frozen in time" and the charter "puts pressure on everyone, on institutions and individuals," Lépine said in a telephone interview.
Enshrining values in a charter would take the separation of Church and state back to "square one, that of the state promoting a system of values or belief," he said. Doing so "diminishes the aims of a charter to protect rights, rights we have as human beings."
"If you are going to be free to have your belief system and your value system, you are going to be called on to respect others' value systems," he said.
"Behind that is a call to trust other human beings, to trust the human heart and trust in the possibility to live in a society with different belief systems and different value systems."
On Sept. 10, the Quebec government released details of the proposed Charter of Quebec Values that would prohibit public servants from wearing visible signs of religious belief such as Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans, large crucifixes or Star of David jewelry.
The government released a chart showing that small symbols such as a tiny crucifix around the neck or on earrings or small Star of David ring would be allowed. These rules would apply to everyone employed in the public sector, from law enforcement, to schools from kindergarten to university, daycares to the health care system.
The charter would also bar people whose faces are covered from providing or receiving public services.
The ban would mean that religious adherents who are required to wear religious garb for faith reasons would have to go against their conscience or leave their employment.
Nuns who run a kindergarten that receives money from the government "won't be allowed to wear their religious clothes," Lepine said. "Why not? That's who they are. They're nuns. Why hide the fact they are nuns?"
Constitutional lawyer Iain Benson slammed Quebec's proposed charter as delusional.
The charter imitates France's "unjust" imposition of anti-religious secularism said Benson, an outspoken advocate of religious freedom.
"The recent proposals from Quebec mirror those from France where both countries continue to exert their anti-religious fervour under the false flags of neutrality," said Benson in an email interview.
"What they seek to do, in banning any public display of religious commitment, is give themselves the illusion that religion is irrelevant."
But banning religious symbolism will not banish the relevance of religion, he said. "It just perpetuates the domination of secularism in these two jurisdictions."
Imposed secularism, or laicity, will not work "because it is unjust," he said.
Benson said he hopes the Supreme Court of Canada will rule in favour of an inclusive public sphere. "In Canada all citizens, religious or not, have a right to make their religious beliefs known."
Polls have shown almost two-thirds of Quebeckers support the proposed charter, with most of the support coming from the francophone majority.
Benson said he would not be surprised if high numbers of French citizens also support laicity. "One cannot discount the long-term effects of brainwashing."
"Just because people don't reject a concept doesn't make the concept valid," he added.
Lépine, meanwhile, said when values are enshrined in a charter, whether they are good or not, the fact they are imposed is "going over the liberty of conscience."
"The first one to respect our liberty is God himself," he said.
Enshrining one system of values in a charter means the "strength of the state" is promoting one system of values, he said. Instead, a charter should protect fundamental rights of human beings.
"For me it's not about whether those are good values or not, the fact of enshrining it in a charter is too strong," the archbishop said.
The proposed charter would permit the crucifix to remain hanging in the Quebec National Assembly and the cross on Mont Royal in Montreal as part of Quebec's history. Christmas trees will also be allowed in public spaces.
That there would be visible signs of the history of a place is normal, but "to enshrine it in a charter, why?" he asked.