Reasonable Accommodation Is a Two-Way Street

There’s a lot to dislike in the Quebecois government’s recent bill that would outlaw the wearing of religious symbols by public servants—presumably including everyone from police officers to teachers to hospital clerks. But the government isn’t entirely wrong in its concern about religious wear in public.

I’m on record as opposing this government, or any Canadian government, placing restrictions on head coverings except in the extreme and easily remedied cases of identification. I’ve put those arguments herehere, and here.

What is particularly odious about this recent legislation is that the Quebecois government is mandating symbolism that says, “Religion should be kept out of public life” while insisting that it is intending merely at symbolism that says, “The state is religiously neutral.”

If the latter were really the government’s concern, however, then letting people wear any religiously-themed clothing or jewelry (that, of course, didn’t interfere with their work—common sense has to apply here) would be a fine way of demonstrating the state’s neutrality. “We welcome into public service Jews wearing kippahs, or Sikhs wearing turbans, or Christians wearing crosses, or Wiccans wearing pentagrams, since all such people are indeed our neighbours and our fellow citizens.” Period.

Requiring people to shed their religious symbols—which amounts to refusing to hire any observant members of some religions, since such people have the integrity not to compromise with an overweening state—serves a different purpose. It restricts the “right” sort of Quebecer to one who doesn’t belong to such groups or one who is indifferent to his group’s customs. The law won’t, in fact, purge the public service of religious believers—just of those who are serious about religions the Quebec government would prefer to stay out of sight, and certainly out of public life.

The proposed legislation is therefore the very definition of religious discrimination. It imposes a rule that hurts only some religious people, not others, rather than “reasonably accommodating” their religious preferences. And for what? To cater to the preferences of the Quebecers who dislike or fear members of such religions? To squeeze certain religious people out of public life? Those are hardly commendable motives.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]


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