HINSHAW: Quebec politicians target symbols of faith

Faith column



One of the minority political parties in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois (PQ), is proposing a new law banning all public employees from wearing any religious type of adornment. Mirroring a law that was passed in France a few years ago, this proposal has had the unintended effect of uniting Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and most other faith groups in opposition to the legislation.

Christians want to maintain the freedom to wear their crosses, Muslims the freedom to clothe themselves in their burkas and Jews and Sikhs the freedom to don their religious headwear. This legislation, as apparently proposed, would ban any public expression of faith for government employees.

It is unclear, according to reports I have read, whether such a proposal would garner enough support in the Quebec Parliament to pass, with some reports suggesting that the PQ has proposed the legislation to gain popularity with an electorate that is increasingly secularized. If it is true that the province of Quebec is turning away from faith, this would be a sad decline from the days when most Quebecois were staunchly Catholic.

Although I have my doubts as to whether this proposal will pick up enough traction to become law, it is one more example of how one can dress up a law by assigning it a positive value while intending it to do the exact opposite. In this case the PQ — in the name of tolerance — is advocating a very intolerant law.

Perhaps the saddest part of this proposed legislation would be the grandfathering in – for a while — of what the law would recognize as cultural artifacts. Thus, the crucifix that hangs over the Quebec Parliament would be allowed to remain in place, not as a religious symbol, but as an archaic symbol that once had deep meaning. It is a sad day when — in Canada or the United States — our most cherished religious symbols are preserved only in the name of culture.

Every religion, I suppose, fights against the erosion of its values and truths over time. It’s almost inevitable that any society, once founded on certain values and religious principles, will eventually come to take those values for granted, shrug at the gradual slippage of those truths and even yawn when somebody takes a step toward revision.

These are not easy issues to define. From time to time, I have taken positions in this column that others have probably seen as abetting that slippage of faith. One person’s Maginot line is another person’s folly. But from my perspective this Canadian proposal by the PQ crosses a dangerous line.

Religious symbols matter, whether they are crosses, crucifixes, habibs, Stars of David or lotuses. A free society should be one where these representations of holiness are encouraged and tolerated rather than suppressed or banned. Those who are suggesting this law have forgotten that the easiest way to make a people reclaim their faith is to try and ban it.

Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.