example. Extreme and damaging practices are reasonably
limited in a free and democratic society.
So, what about religious dress? What threat does it pose
that would warrant restrictions?
There is no evidence a government employee wearing
religious clothing is more likely to discriminate unfairly.
In fact, someone who visibly self-identifies with a religious
tradition would more likely take extra care not only to be
fair, but also to be seen to be fair.
Perhaps more context can help explain the perceived
threat. Most traditions of Christianity, which have so dominated Canada’s history, do not require distinctive clothing
or symbols, so restricting their wear would mainly affect
people of non-Christian faiths who are, by and large, more
recently immigrated to Canada.
Religious garb, then, reminds all of us of the changing
character of Quebec and all of Canada – increasingly diverse in religion and culture. While this diversity might
make some Canadians uncomfortable, it is not a threat to
the fair and unbiased operation of government. On the
contrary, such garb on government functionaries demonstrates the nonsectarian approach is indeed working.
Perhaps we need to look elsewhere to understand some
of the angst over religious clothing. Could it be that, in
a country with so many freedoms, some Canadians feel
threatened by those who have chosen a faith that prescribes public dress or behaviour?
We live in an age of secularity, as Canadian philosopher
Charles Taylor calls it. Ideas such as transcendence and
the sacred are no longer seen as being necessary to life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or to peace, order and
good government. Faith is seen as optional, and is only
tolerated if it does not challenge how we choose to live out
our lives or how we manage our lives together in society.
Canadians today are committed to individual autonomy,
to freedom of choice. Our self-image is understood to be
an expression of individual sovereignty.
So it seems that in Canada today, transcendent beliefs
are coming to be seen as a threat that challenges popular
ideas of secularity and individual autonomy.
In such a situation our nonsectarian heritage can serve
us well. A truly nonsectarian approach would seek to accommodate those who affirm the current views about secularity and autonomy, but not allow these commitments
to trump other (religious) worldviews in shaping how we
organize public behaviour in a religiously plural society. FT
BrucE J. clEMENgEr is president of The
Evangelical fellowship of Canada. read more of
his columns at www.theEfC.ca/clemenger.
Thegatheringplace n BY BrUCE J. CLEMENGEr
When government representatives wear religious ymbols or headdresses, does that threaten the secular nature of governments in Canada? The
Government of Quebec argues it does. It has proposed a
Charter of Values that would bar government employees
– from teachers to judges – from wearing conspicuous
religious symbols or clothing on the job.
The response to this proposal is starkly different within
and outside Quebec. The majority of Quebecers seem to
favour it (with the notable exception of those in Montreal),
while the majority of other Canadians are opposed. Why do
so many support the proposal? What threat does it address?
In Canada governments are secular. Although some
debate what “secular” actually means, most agree governments should treat people of any faith (or no particular
faith) fairly and equitably. Governments should not be
biased toward or against individuals because of their religious beliefs.
Historically this meant our governments were nonsectarian – no one church or Christian tradition (or, more recently,
any world religion) should be privileged or have special status.
Nor should adherence to a religion disqualify someone from
government protection, services or employment.
Today people of all faiths are to be accommodated and
free to engage in the public square and work for governments if they so choose. Religious belief should not be a
barrier to full participation in Canadian society.
Although the issue raised by the Charter of Values is
not religious belief but dress, the two are not so easily
separated. The concept of freedom of religion has historically recognized that religious belief and practices are
intertwined. Both the expression of beliefs as well as the
beliefs themselves deserve protection.
Admittedly, not every activity that flows from a religious
commitment should be tolerated – take human sacrifice, for
Where’s the Threat?
religious symbols don’t compromise the
secular nature of governments in Canada.
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The Evangelical fellowship of Canada is the national association of
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principles in life and society. Visit us at www.theEfC.ca.