Montreal archbishop warns against enshrining Quebec values in a charter

 — Sept. 11, 201311 sept. 2013

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine has warned against the Parti Quebecois’ plans to enshrine Quebec values in a charter.

Once Quebec “values” are enshrined in such a charter, they are “frozen in time” and the charter “puts pressure on everyone, on institutions and individuals,” Lépine said in an interview from Montreal.

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 skullcaps, Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans, large crucifixes or Star of David jewellery. The government released a chart showing that small symbols such as a tiny crucifix around the neck or on earrings or a small Star of David ring would be allowed. These rules would apply to everyone employed in the public sector. The charter would also bar people whose faces are covered from providing or receiving public services.

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,” Lépine 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 system,” 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.”

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,” the archbishop said. “Why not? That’s who they are. They’re nuns. Why hide the fact they are nuns?

“A distinction needs to be made between what a charter is as a project and a system of values,” he said. “In a society people have different belief systems, different values and it’s okay. If someone doesn’t agree, he can go to another one. Freedom, freedom of conscience, of movement, is a positive thing, part of democracy.”

Values and belief systems may need to be discussed in the public square, but they change over time, he said. A values charter adopted 20 years ago would be different from one adopted today or one 10 years from now. Instead space needs to remain in the public square for discussion, dialogue and mutual respect, he said.

“For me it’s not about whether those are good values or not, the fact of enshrining it in a charter is too strong,” he said.

And for the archbishop, state neutrality concerning religion should not mean forbidding religious expression in the public square. Human beings have a private side and a personal life but a social dimension as well.

“We are individuals but we live with others; we have private lives but we live in society, in the public square… You don’t have to hide who you are. You don’t have to refrain from being who you are.”

Lépine drew a distinction between open secularity and closed secularity. In open secularity there is “liberty of religion,” he said, and government plays a big role in protecting liberty in society. But closed secularity or laicity means a closed system of values, and “When you put it into a charter, everyone has to fall in line.”

The proposed Charter of Quebec Values 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.

Posted: Sept. 11, 2013 • Permanent link:
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