The Quebec Charter: Where Religion Meets Politics

Religion and Politics

Religion and politics, or even religion and secular society, have on many occasions in Canadian history, intersected and shaped debate. Such a relationship can be reflected in the formal intersection of religion and the politics in our political institutions, its decisions and laws that define Canadian society. Recently, the Quebec Charter of Values has created controversy over its proposed regulation of the wearing of certain religious symbols for individuals in the public sector, and its aim to promote neutrality and secularism in Quebec society. (See Article from The Globe and Mail: http://bit.ly/1iyM74z)

The article “Former Supreme Court justices offer conflicting views of Quebec’s secular charter” by Tu Thanh Ha, of The Globe and Mail, presents two perspectives on the concept and fundamental freedom of religion, and the Quebec Charter, as a seamless example of where religion meets politics. The first perspective, one by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, opposes the prospect and essence of the Quebec Charter as an instrument of promoting neutrality and equality. Instead, Arbour explains that the document is the exact opposite, saying that it encroaches on the very idea of freedom of religion. In her view, freedom of religion is not one that can be purely private and be muted in public life, as the concept itself is the protection of religious belief not just in a private sense.

The second perspective is one by another former Supreme Court justice, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, who supports the notion that the Quebec Charter would assist in the promotion of equality, and would not critically alter the essence of religious freedom in Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. L’Heureux-Dubé argues that religion is a private affair; it is also slightly presented as having two parts, such that a restriction on the wearing of particular religious symbols would not change the mindset of belief, and thus not violate the freedom of religion itself.

In an era where the idea of the separation of church and state is commonly accepted, one may believe that acts of religious belief and public life should not come together. The content, social and political consequences of the Quebec Charter present a deep debate that lies beneath the surface of simply promoting neutrality or equality. More importantly, it poses questions that relate to the very fabric of Canadian political culture, religious and moral belief, such as: the idea of Canada as an integrative and diverse society, founded on principles of freedom and democracy; the impact of religion on the foundation of our basic principles; the promotion and protection of one’s rights against another, that of majorities against minorities. The point here is that where religion and politics are interconnected, and woven into the fabric of Canadian culture, anything that tries to changes its principles will create significant debate that is often convoluted. This is especially true with the case of the implications of the Quebec Charter on religion and Canadian political culture, as they reach into the depths of our heritage and tradition.

On the concept of freedom of religion, as debated by the two former Supreme Court justices, I believe that religion in itself, for many, is not a purely private matter. As Louise Arbour explained, the Quebec Charter would, if made law, potentially limit the appropriate opportunities for religious expression in the public realm, especially for those targeted by the proposed document. Moreover, those with religious beliefs may hold such as their social reality, whether in public or private life. So, it may be difficult to say that religious symbols are void of meaning or importance, or that religious practice and views should be limited to private life. In this perspective, the Quebec Charter, as a political document and act, may be moving too far into the regulation of the life of the individual and personal decisions.

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