(JTA) – Quebec has introduced a bill that bans some public employees from wearing religious symbols at work, including kippahs.
The measure is intended to reinforce the separation of church and state, but critics say the real target appears to be Muslim women who wear hijabs covering their hair and necks.
The Quebec National Assembly pushed ahead with the “secularism bill” on Thursday introduced by the right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec government of Premier François Legault.
Among those who would be affected are teachers, police officers and judges. Along with kippahs and hijabs, Sikh turbans and crucifixes would be prohibited.
Polls show most Quebecers supporting the legislation.
The Jewish community is wary.
“The Jewish community of Quebec supports the religious neutrality of the state and recognizes that secularism has historically protected freedom of religion and conscience. While we welcome the exemption to private schools, we are firmly opposed to any restriction of the freedom of religion of individuals in the name of secularism,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of CIJA-Quebec, in a statement.
“Our community believes that the secularism of the state is an institutional duty and not a personal one. The commitment to secularism does not rest on the outward appearance of individuals. Any legislation that aims to restrict individual freedoms must pass the test of its constitutionality and in this regard, we are troubled by the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause to shield this legislation from a legal challenge.
“We are closely studying this Bill and are committed to participating constructively in the special consultations in order to voice our community’s concerns and opposition,”added Rabbi Poupko.
“We are very concerned with the new Quebec government’s statements regarding a ban on religious symbols displayed by government officials and displayed in public institutions,” said Harvey Levine, the Quebec regional director of B’nai Brith Canada, suggesting the notion is “at odds” with Canadian values.
“We call on the [Quebec government] to avoid the slippery slope of diminishing fundamental rights and work instead to secure religious liberties for all Quebecers.”
As an apparent sop to critics, the legislation has a grandfather clause that allows workers who now wear religious symbols to keep them on, and will remove a prominent crucifix in the National Assembly. But new public workers in “authority” positions could not wear religious symbols – they risk dismissal if they do not follow the ban.
In October 2017, Quebec’s previous Liberal government passed a bill banning face coverings for those receiving public services.
The Ottawa Jewish Bulletin added to this report.