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Statement Opposing Quebec’s Proposed Charter of Values

Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism is a secular Jewish organization that strongly advocates the separation of religion and state. Oraynu is of the view that all members of our society should have freedom of religion and freedom from religion. We believe that, in a free and democratic society such as we enjoy in Canada, all citizens should be free to manifest their philosophical and religious viewpoints openly, by dress, image, jewellery, or in any other way, as long as, in so doing, they do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. We therefore express our strong opposition to those aspects of Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values that would prohibit employees of governmental institutions from wearing certain articles emblematic of religions. We believe that wearing these articles, in and of themselves, neither injures the integrity of the secular state nor threatens the efficient performance of the wearer’s employment and the delivery of unbiased services to the public. Banning such articles, in fact, is discriminatory on the basis of religion and ethnicity.

We are concerned about this proposed legislation as Canadians, as Jews, and as secularists. As Canadians we value the diversity and multiculturalism of our country and do not wish to see it threatened in any of our provinces or territories. As Jews we have been the victims of a long history of anti-Semitism encompassing religious and cultural discrimination, and thus respond with sympathetic understanding when any individual or group becomes the target of similar discrimination. As secularists we believe true secularism is compatible with freedom of religious expression for all.

The proposed charter states: “The purpose of this bill is to establish a Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality,” but also that the legislation will make “allowance for the emblematic and toponymic elements of Quebec’s cultural heritage that testify to its history.” There is an inherent hypocrisy in the Charter making allowance for the display of symbols of one religion that is deemed historically and culturally important while at the same time banning important symbols of other religions and cultures in public institutions.   If the purpose is indeed to foster secular neutrality and equality, then we find that separation of religion and state can more effectively be accomplished by eliminating certain symbols displayed by governments and certain actions that governments promote, such as religious symbols in the legislature and other governmental institutions, the invocation of a deity in our national anthem, and the funding of religious schools.   Yes, separate religion and state, with true neutrality and equality but without trampling on civil liberties.

January 30, 2014