Religion and Secularism: Four myths and Bill 21

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RELIGION AND SECULARISM: FOUR MYTHS AND BILL 21 Dr. Margaretta Patrick Dr. W.Y. Alice Chan Dr.Hicham Tiflati Erin Reid The Centre for Civic Religious Literacy December 2019

Religion and Secularism: Four myths and Bill 21 By: Margaretta Patrick, W. Y. Alice Chan, Hicham Tiflati, and Erin Reid Abstract: This article aims to bridge misunderstandings on many sides of the conversation about Bill 21. It introduces four myths undergirding Bill 21, Quebec, religion, and religious expressions and practice, and clarifies the complex realities around each myth. Several of the authors are academics in Quebec and all are connected to the larger conversations of Bill 21 across Canada. Together, they promote civic conversations around the controversy of religion and belief and offers religious literacy as a means to move forward on common ground. Introduction: In recent years, controversies have emerged in Quebec around the public presence of religious symbols. Particular disputes involved the hijab in public schools (McAndrew, 2006), the face veil in public spaces (Sharify-Funk, 2011), the proposal of a Charter of Values in 2013 (Bill 60), and the niqab ban in 2017 (Bill 62). In 2019, Premier Legault promised to solve the on-going issues, seen as a problem by many, once and for all (Bordeleau, 2019) by invoking the notwithstanding clause to pass Bill 21, Quebec’s Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, which bans many government employees from wearing religious symbols. The history and intensity of the various debates reveal that in Quebec religious minorities, particularly Muslims, are being portrayed as problems. The introduction, debate, and passage of Bill 21 were acrimonious and divisive. For example, two months after the introduction of Bill 21 on March 28, Muslim women reported a rise in incidences of harassment and discrimination (Montpetit 2019, a). Just over a month later, the CBC reported Quebec Premier Legault as saying he didn’t “really believe” their testimony (Montpetit, 2019b). The extensive media coverage of the Bill has addressed many aspects of the controversies. We wish to contribute to the conversation by identifying the underlying views of religion and secularism that undergird the Bill. To do so, we employ a myth/reality format. Following William Cavanaugh (2009), we use the term “myth” to suggest there are configurations of power behind definitions of religion that over time become established and unquestioned. In his book titled The myth of religious violence (2009), Cavanaugh refutes the myth of religious violence, not to excuse the violence promoted by some religious groups, but to examine how the definition of religion used in such arguments is itself a 1

configuration of power that serves a purpose. Thus, he argues that religion defined as timeless, trans-historical, transcultural, and separated from politics, never existed and creates an us/them binary in which “we” are secular, rational, and civilized and “they” are religious, violent, and dangerous. Cavanaugh identifies Islam as the religious “other” most often portrayed as problematic, in part because it does not separate politics and religion. According to the myth, Islam must be tamed, at times through liberal violence. While such violence might be regrettable, it is necessary in order to make peace. While we do not address issues of violence in this paper, we adopt Cavanaugh’s critique regarding the manner in which definitions of religion and secularism reflect power and are employed to justify various actions. Cavanaugh is not alone in his assessment of how definitions can be used to govern individual lives, groups, the public sphere, and public policy. Cultural anthropologist Talal Asad (2012, p. 39) notes that definitions of religion, “endorse or reject certain uses of a vocabulary that have profound implications for the organization of social life and the possibilities of personal experience.” It is these profound implications that call us to unpack the definitions behind Bill 21. The implications are important first and foremost for those whose lives will be negatively impacted by the definitions invoked by the Bill, but also for other Canadians who work towards justice, multiculturalism, and anti-discrimination. As we explore the definitions of religion and secularism supporting Bill 21, we do not ignore the particular history of Christianity in Quebec. Nor do we disregard the established wisdom of separating the institutions of church and state. Rather, we wish to problematize the portrayal of religion as necessarily private and separate from politics, highlight the heterogeneity within religious traditions, and question the supposed neutrality of secularism. Thus for each myth about religion and/or secularism surrounding Bill 21, we offer a “reality” section in which we demonstrate the diversity and richness of religion in the real lives of practitioners and examine issues of power. For a number of myths, power occurs when definitions of religion created by the Christian majority are imposed on the public and religious minorities. In the final section of the paper we present some ways of thinking about religion that promote civic conversations, and in the process might begin mending some of the fractures created by the Bill. It is our belief that ongoing education about religion and secularism contributes to strong communities and national relationships. Before we begin, it is important to note that the unsettled nature and role of religion in public life is not unique to Quebec. As will be discussed below, there 2

is significant religious illiteracy across Canada, and illiteracy can easily yield stereotypes resulting in discrimination. Unsurprisingly in 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) reminded Canadians that the struggle against religious discrimination is on-going. While acknowledging Canadian support for Syrian newcomers, many of whom were Muslims, the Commission raised concerns about various acts of backlash against Canadian Muslims in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris that same year. It also noted that, Less extreme, but likely more pervasive than overt attacks are new stereotypes that view all religious people as inherently backward, less tolerant, less informed, or closed-minded. This is a different form of prejudice that appears to be socially acceptable in our more secular society, and among many otherwise ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ individuals. (paragraph 7) Such stereotypes are problematic because they are one-dimensional in their representation of religious traditions, practices, communities, and individuals. Further, stereotypes misrepresent religions when they ignore the internal diversity of religions, their dynamic and changing natures, and how they are embedded in, rather than isolated from, culture (Moore, 2010). Misrepresentations are always problematic, but are especially so when they involve the religion of minority groups, such as immigrants, new religious movements, and marginalized Christians (Beaman, 2003; Seljak et al., 2008, pp. 13-14). While misrepresentations of, and discrimination against, minority groups have never been the only story in Canada, they have been consistent and can be masked by language highlighting the need to protect secularism or another social factor. For example, the language of social cohesion masked opposition to Muslim schools receiving public funds during the 2007 Ontario election campaign. As Seljak and others observed (2008, p. 15), “an undercurrent of Islamophobia in the province...was used to reinforce and even help define the normatively ‘Christian secularism’ with which the Ontario electorate proved comfortable.” They found the same Christian secularism and appeals to Church/State separation were used to silence non-Christian religions and minority Christian groups in Quebec (pp. 17-18). Such events point to the need for religious literacy, to enable Canadians to evaluate how the terms “religion” and “secular” are being employed and for what purposes. The case of Bill 21 is an example of the need for such analysis.


Myths undergirding Bill 21 and richer Realities MYTH No. 1: Religion is only individual and private This myth is pervasive throughout Canada and is evidenced in various legal rulings. Canadian legal scholar Benjamin Berger (2012, paragraph 6) describes how “The law imagines religion as a quintessentially private matter. Belief is more digestible than conduct – this legal axiom is one potent expression of law’s commitment to religion as a private matter.” Berger goes on to note how the law understands religion as something chosen by autonomous individuals. Such perceptions are consistent with liberal interpretation of the human person and western understandings of religion, as will be demonstrated below. While Bill 21 does not specifically define religion, it reinforces a privatized and individualized view of religion in two ways. First, it governs religion by determining which symbols are distinctly “religious” and thus private, and which ones are “cultural” and thus appropriate (and by definition inappropriate) for the public sphere (Dick, 2019). The state thus ascribes to itself the power to determine what is, and what is not, religious. Second, in claiming that religious symbols are offensive to a secular state in some instances, the state is assuming private religion as the norm. Reality: Although some who self-identify as religious do indeed live out their religious experiences and beliefs in individual and private ways, this is by no means universal. In fact, an individual and private form of religion is largely a modern concept derived from liberal Protestant Christianity (Sullivan, 2005) and fits well with such structures of secular liberal states as individual rights, the public/private binary, state religious neutrality, the separation of church and state, and the privatization of religion (Calhoun et al., 2011a; Jukier & Woehrling, 2010). In the early modern period, separating and privatizing religion freed the “secular” spheres of politics and economics from religion. In the process, the liberal state became sacralized as public loyalty shifted from the church to the state (Cavanaugh, 2009, p. 120). Secularism is, therefore, more than the absence of religion; it promotes some ways of living and being while impeding others (Asad, 2003; Calhoun et al, 2011b; Casanova, 1994). Rather than pose religion and secularism as distinctive terms, religious studies scholarship posits them as mutually constitutive, with Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (2012, p. 955) defining secularism “as a contingent series of legal and political claims and projects that are deeply implicated in the definition and management of religion.” Thus secular states and their policies govern the public and individual lives by their definitions of religion, through which they determine which groups are acceptable and thus 4

entitled to such privileges as charitable tax status (or not), and which religious holy days are recognized as “cultural.” Ultimately, defining religion is highly contentious because it is embedded in politics and power dynamics (Hurd, 2015). Scholars are increasingly refuting the notion that religion can be separated from the rest of life (Hurd 2015; Sullivan, 2005). Instead of focusing exclusively on expert or official religion, that which is situated within the academy or with those who hold religious and/or political power, these scholars study how religion is lived by those who refer to themselves as religious but may do so in ways that are beyond the definitions or scope of the experts and officials (Hurd, 2015; Sullivan, 2005). As Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (2005, p. 151) explains, Religion, consciously separated from society and culture by the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the wars of religion in Europe, and the various Enlightenments, is being reincorporated, intellectually, and in practice, into other cultural and social realities, in myriad ways—through art, tourism, music, international political movements, a rediscovery of so-called spirituality, and the internet...It is there in private and in public, in acts of charity as well as in acts of terror, on the internet as well as in churches. One may ask whether religion in actuality ever left the spheres of art, tourism, music, etc., or if it was pushed to the margins by political and social governance. Regardless, lived religion is incompatible with the public/private binary, privatization of religion, and the separation of religion and politics, in part because it involves practice. Practice can be private, but it can just as well be public. For Robert Orsi (2003, p. 172), “[r]eligion is always religion-in-action, religion-in-relationships between people, between the ways the world is and the way people imagine or want it to be.” In such cases, it is difficult to view religion as solely private and individual. Thus the privatization of religion is a political act advancing the governance of religion in ways that involve power and marginalize religion as it is lived. As Paul Bramadat (2014, 16) argues, “the insistence that one can distinguish tidily between one’s religious as opposed to one’s political, economic, and social commitments and motivations is indicative of a very particular cultural and historical trend” which reflects a belief that if everyone lived under liberal democratic conditions, they would endorse private religion. Yet the fact remains that many religious followers, especially in the West, who believe their religious commitments extend to all of life must nevertheless privatize them if they wish to participate in the public sphere. 5

Forms of religion that refuse to privatize are at best portrayed as weird, and at worst as dangerous, illiberal, and irrational. Such groups include the Hutterites, Amish, Protestant Evangelicals, Jews, and particularly Muslims. While the comprehensive nature of all these religious beliefs and practices often prompt suspicion, for some, the disciplined nature of their traditions extends the suspicion. As Asad (2012, p. 54) points out, while the disciplined subject in EuroAmerica is portrayed as distinctively modern and symbolic of modern freedom, the opposite is true for Muslim life and Islamic movements. Discipline in Islam, such as “The existence of rules of conduct (of dress, comportment, daily prayers, and so on) and the cultivation of sensibilities (the control of emotion in speech and behavior towards others and reverence towards the sacred voice) are seen as constraint and suppression.” Such discrepancies extend beyond discipline and are particularly salient around issues of culture. As Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change, Lori Beaman (2017) put it in the wake of earlier policy decisions in Quebec that identified Christian symbols as culture rather than religion, the binary becomes one of “us” having culture and heritage while “they” have religion. In other words, “we” have tamed religion by privatizing and individualizing it and “they” have not. MYTH No. 2: Religion can be put on and taken off depending on public context This myth appears to underlie the thinking of at least some within Quebec’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government. For example, on a provincial CBC television program, Premier Legault defended Bill 21 by saying “They can wear [a hijab] at home. They can wear it in public places. We say if you really don’t want to remove it, there are four jobs where you can’t apply. That’s it, that’s all” (Montpetit, 2019b). This dismissive position reflects a misunderstanding between religious identity and religious expression. As Amrit Kaur, a Sikh who considers Quebec her home, expressed, “[Religion is] a personal conviction that I can’t leave at the door...It’s something that is so a part of my identity, and so a part of my being that I can’t disassociate it from my body. I wear it at all times” (Maher, 2019). A trained teacher, she has left Quebec due to Bill 21 and now teaches in British Columbia (Boothby, 2019). Reality: To suggest a niqab, turban, yarmulke or other religious head covering can be put on and taken off at will throughout the day, like a fashion accessory (Peck & Sears, 2014), reflects a secular and liberal Protestant understanding of religion that assumes individualization and privatization. This is an example of how a definition of religion can lead to discrimination if it does not account for 6

different ways of being and living religion. It also illustrates a common error of using one perspective and social framework (often liberal Christian) to understand - and then evaluate - other traditions and cultures. For many individuals whose religion is an aspect of identity, religion and its markers cannot be put on and taken off like a jacket or ball cap. Unlike Catholicism, which does not require visible religious symbols for its followers outside of ordained clergy and those within religious orders, several minority religions require (at least some) members to do so. The understanding that religion cannot be easily removed is difficult for many in Quebec to consider, given the role and history of Catholicism in the province and the fact that 75% of those who live in Quebec still self-identify as Catholic according to the 2011 National Household Survey (Statistics Canada, 2013) Nevertheless, the link between religious identity and symbols has been established in the research, including among young people. Beyer and Ramji (2013) interviewed those who are first, 1.5, and second-generation Canadian youth who are also members of a religious minority to examine how their religious identities evolve over time and how they view religious symbols. 1 We focus here on Muslim youth, for whom their decision to wear a religious symbol can be very personal, and reflects many aspects of their identity and development. Research suggests that Muslim youth absorb core values of the Canadian society, such as considering the individual the authentic centre of life (Beyer, 2013). These youth are adopting a “de-cultured� understanding and practice of Islam whereby their religious identity is influenced by both traditional and modern sources (Fortin, LeBlanc, & Le Gall, 2008; Hassen, 2013; Tiflati, 2017). They also tend to have strong boundaries as to what is religious and what is not (Beaman, Nason, & Ramji, 2013). These first, 1.5, and second-generation Canadian Muslim youth are developing an interpretation of Islam that matches their identity as westerners. Many youth insist that their strong Muslim identity supports their full participation in society culturally, socially, and politically (Beyer, 2013; Tiflati, 2017). They consider themselves individually responsible for and capable of building their own personal relation to religion (Beyer & Ramji, 2013). In other words, they ascribe different and personal meanings to Islam as a primary marker of their identity (Hassen, 2013), which signifies a new form of religiosity among western Muslim youth. Some personally choose to wear a hijab, or another form of headscarf, as an expression of their Muslim identity. Such personal choice is in opposition to representations of the hijab as an imposed 1

1.5 refers to those who were born elsewhere but immigrated to Canada in their early teenage years.


item that represents female oppression, which is the perception of many nonMuslims in Quebec (Moison and Warren, 2019). For many devout Muslim youth, wearing a veil reflects Islam as a way of life that occupies a central part of their life that cannot stay hidden (Bullock & Nesbitt-Larking, 2011). What is clear is that Muslim youth, like every other community, cannot be essentialized. For many Muslims, Islam is comprehensive, impacting most or all areas of life. For others, it is more individual, and as individuals they have chosen to wear a head covering as a symbol of their religious identity. Thus identity, and particularly religious identity, is immensely complex. For some, religious symbols will be highly significant for their identity, whereas for others the symbols will be less important. While symbols are not the only form of religious identity expression, they are central for many. Adherents for whom the symbols are a part of daily life and of their identity cannot put them on and take them off at will depending on the situation. And to make the issue even more complex, political, social, and/or theological motivations cannot necessarily be ascribed to the wearing of religious symbols, as religious identity is fluid and evolving with changing contexts, as evidenced by the research of Muslim youth in Canada and Quebec. Myth No. 3: Quebec’s history requires a public sphere free from religion Referenced in our introduction, public debates about secularism in Quebec have been ongoing for over a decade and expressed colourfully in the media with such descriptions as, “l’éternel débat autour de la laïcité” (Translation: “the neverending debate about laicity”) (Mezhoud, 2019). In relation to Bill 21, media remarks include comments like, “Le projet de loi sur la laïcité mettra-t-il réellement fin au débat?” (Translation: “Will the bill about laicity put a final end to the debate?” (Crête, 2019a). Such language reflects the sentiment among some Quebecers who want to end the long-standing conversation about religion in the public sphere. For many Quebecers who witnessed the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, or are familiar with the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church only a few generations earlier, there is a strong desire to remove any potential influence of the Roman Catholic Church or any religion in the public sphere. (See Montpetit, 2018 for a variety of poll results.) But it is not only those with deep roots in Quebec who support Bill 21. The Bill also has support among recent immigrants from Muslim-majority nations, mostly in North Africa. For example, Ameni Ben Ammar saw religion encroach more and more into Tunisian daily life and government institutions. For her Muslim mother, not wearing a veil began to feel like a social faux pas. Zahra Boukersi and 8

many other Algerians in Quebec remember how wearing a veil in Algeria became a social imposition and no longer a choice. Iranian-born Homan Davoodi felt that the hijab was more repressive than a KKK hood because “You grew up with this whole idea, with this whole concept that you should not see a woman's hair or her body...It was a burden of guilt and shame on me” (Nakonechny, 2019). For all of these individuals, Bill 21 is a clear and necessary line between religion and state. Like some other Quebecers, they believe Bill 21 prevents what they perceive to be an unjust future if religion is not policed and disciplined (Nakonechny, 2019). There is strong support for Bill 21 within the province, perhaps related to the 21% of surveyed Quebecers in a recent representative study who strongly disavowed a belief in God, the highest percentage across all the provinces with the exception of Nova Scotia and British Columbia (Jedwab, 2019). Such data suggests strong sentiment against organized religion in the public sphere. Yet, Bill 21 (Chapter IV, Section 16) reads: “La présente loi ne peut être interprétée comme ayant un effet sur les éléments emblématiques ou toponymiques du patrimoine culturel du Québec, notamment du patrimoine culturel religieux, qui témoignent de son parcours Historique.” (Translation: This Act must not be interpreted as affecting the emblematic or toponymic elements of Québec’s cultural heritage, in particular of its religious cultural heritage, that testify to its history.) This complicates the discussion about religion in the public sphere, as does the presence of multiple conversations. Within such complexity it is inappropriate to impose the experience of one group onto the potential experience of another group, and from one context to another. With regard to Bill 21, the myth involved in seeking a public sphere free from religion imposes the separation it seeks between religion and state, applicable for a government institution, onto an individual government employee and their individual expression of religion. Reality: Understanding Quebec’s unique history is central to the controversies surrounding religious symbols in public spaces and to Bill 21. Quebec was one of the last western states, and certainly the last in North America, to secularize its public institutions. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church controlled provincial institutions until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Public schooling, for instance, maintained its confessional status (with Catholic and Protestant educational boards) until 2000, when the two linguistic boards of English and French were created after a long “déconfessionalisation” process (Boudreau, 2011). As a result of this history, Quebecers have a unique relationship with religion in general and Catholicism in particular. It took decades to sever ties with the Church and modernize Quebec society, which had been heavily influenced 9

economically, socially, and culturally by a traditionally conservative Catholic perspective. Today most francophone Quebecers are wary of new manifestations of religion in the public sphere, including in schools, because their presence revives old memories and are viewed as a return of that oppressive past. Although this history cannot be denied, some Muslims disagree with the solution Bill 21 offers. Because they and some other religious minorities in Quebec do not share Quebec’s history, they experience Bill 21 as oppressive. While many scholars (Taylor, 2012; Bouchard & Taylor, 2008; Tremblay, 2009) provide profound analyses of Quebec’s relationship with religion and how it affects policies and relationships with the “Other,” some religious minorities compare Quebec to the rest of Canada and conclude that Quebec is less accepting and more xenophobic. These comparisons and realities prompt some religious minorities to believe that Bill 21 is not only about ostensible minority religious symbols or about secular neutral public institutions as was stated by the Premier, but an attempt to ban their religious and cultural identities from being freely manifested in public institutions. As some manifestations of their identities are seen as problematic and thus requiring legal banishment, they are left with the impression that they are foreigners and second-class citizens. This is troubling, as a citizen should not feel the need to hide any aspect of their identity in the public spheres where citizenship is constructed and symbolized (Amiraux, 2016). Religious minorities are supported by the Bouchard-Taylor report (2008), which pointed out that even though French-Canadian Quebecers had an unpleasant experience with Catholicism, it would be unjust to project this fear onto other religions (i.e. Islam). Nevertheless, fears about Muslim religious symbols abound. For many Quebecers, the hijab conjures up images of threats that should be feared and never imitated or appreciated in the West (Amiraux, 2016). It is also perceived as a sign of gender inequality (i.e. inheritance), subordination of women (men’s guardianship over women), loyalty to Islam, and an attack on secular ways of life (Ali & Bagley, 2015). The complexity is staggering. Religious minorities do not all experience Bill 21 in the same manner, which is not surprising given the heterogeneity within all communities, including those that are religious. Religious literacy, a framework and skill set to understand religious, spiritual, and non-religious beliefs, helps us be cognizant of diverse religious expressions present within communities. For some women, aspects of gender inequality and subordination of women through the hijab and other veils are a reality, whether they live in Canada or abroad, in history or today. But not all Muslim women feel the same way about veils, nor do 10

they all experience Quebec culture in the same manner. Essentialism must be avoided in order to avoid false assumptions. At the same time, all religious minorities live with the implications of Quebec history, which has prompted the province to opt for laicity, the form of secularism found in France and described by philosopher Charles Taylor (2007) as “strict” or “closed” secularism. Yet, Bouchard and Taylor (2008, p. 20) reject restrictive laicity for three reasons: (1) “it does not truly link institutional structures to the outcomes of secularism;” (2) policies directed against religion are incompatible with the principles of neutrality and respect of citizens’ worldviews; and (3), by forcing citizens to hide their identities, integration is not achieved in exchanges amongst citizens. In closed secularism, the “Islamic problem,” or as Selby and Beaman (2016) call it, the “Muslim Question,” is an increasingly referenced notion that vilifies Muslims by problematizing their integration within a western secular public sphere. In contrast, open secularism would be an option that allows Islamic and other minority identities to peaceably flourish alongside other dominant identities (Taylor, 2007). The solution offered by Bill 21 is too simplistic for the complexities outlined in this section. MYTH No. 4: There is one understanding of secularism - that it is neutral and that secular states are also neutral. The preamble to Bill 21 states that, “State laicity contributes to the fulfilment of the magistrature’s duty of impartiality.” The CAQ appears to believe the Bill is neutral and advances a neutral secular state. However, speaking on a panel in April, Taylor disagreed, stating, “If the instruments of the society, the state, is really neutral between religion and non-religion and between religions, then to set up a law in which people who practice certain religions can’t get access to certain jobs and people who don’t practice those religions, other religion or no religions, can, is a clear discrimination” (Patrick transcript from online video) (Feith, 2019). Reality: In their appeal to laicity, the CAQ is choosing to promote one form of secularism over others. Given the variety of options available, the choice is a political and cultural one (Calhoun et al., 2011a; Hurd, 2008; Martin, 1978, 2005, Stepan, 2000). Even within the model of laicity there is some diversity among states (Stepan, 2011). In reality no western state is truly secular (Stepan, 2011); in part because secularism is not the absence of religion, as established above. However, the common perception that a secular society is one in which there is no public expression of religion persists and often obscures underlying dominant 11

religious structures and privilege. For example, in their study of Muslim women living in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Montreal, Quebec, Jennifer Selby, Amélie Barras, and Lori Beaman (2018, p. 93) noted that, Our interlocutors’ stories reveal that it is the lack of acknowledgment of blurred boundaries and the related silent privileging of Christianity that are experienced as problematic. Indeed, their experiences show the prevalence of the idea that Christianity has been successfully privatized, while Islam, in contrast, is imagined as public, non-neutral, and therefore, available for commentary, adjudication, and regulation ... Acknowledging this reality can help unravel not only what type of class, race, and gender power structure and political climates these delineations protect, but also under which circumstances these boundaries are made “dormant” or identified as non-issues (internal references omitted). No form of secularism can be neutral or impartial for all the reasons stated in the unpacking of the preceding myths. States always govern religion; secularism by its history is deeply embroiled in defining and governing religion; and Bill 21 has an assumption of liberal Christianity. The desire for neutrality is impossible to achieve for another reason. According to Meer et al. (2016), no state can be culturally neutral because all societies have symbolic histories that they employ as a cultural reference when legislating for the country. As all democratic societies tend to legislate for the majority, legislation is never truly neutral (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008). Debates around religious symbols are for the most part framed to normalize the dominant point of view that is employed to measure or interpret how the behaviour of religious minorities, especially Muslims, is judged, understood, and shaped by policy makers and society at large. Judging which acts are illegal through the hierarchical positioning of secular versus religious behaviours explains how the veil is seen as a sign of gender inequality (Amiraux, 2016). The dominant culture in Quebec, Canada, and the West remains Christian. In fact, Western secularism was produced in Christian lands through, or in opposition to, Christian theology. But rather than describe western societies as secular, Beaman (2011, 239) and others (Seljak et al., 2008) claim that Christianity shapes not only the interpretation of religious freedom and neutrality in these states, but also the space allowed for religion to influence citizens’ lives. For instance, as the majority of western populations are/were Christian, legislation tends to respond to the ruling Christian majority. Bouchard and Taylor (2008) captured this scenario when they wrote that a number of seemingly neutral or universal norms reproduce in actual fact worldviews, values and implicit norms specific to the majority 12

culture or population, e.g. restaurant, airline or cafeteria menus, which, in bygone days, did not take into account vegetarians or individuals with food allergies. Another avenue for countering the “secularism as neutral” myth is to expand the definition of religion. Some scholars (Miedema, 2014; Valk, 2007, 2017) prefer to employ the concept of “worldview” rather than religion to refer to peoples’ beliefs, traditions, and cultures. In this sense, religious understandings of life and society can be categorized as assumptions of a parallel worldview system. As Bouchard and Taylor (2008) suggest, what we refer to as secular, neutral, or universal norms and customs is in fact a worldview “specific to the majority culture and population” (p. 161), which means that minorities who fall outside of this common worldview might be seen as a menace to the dominant culture or to social cohesion because they are challenging the power of dominant discourses (Elbih, 2012; Antonius, 2008). For instance, in Quebec, during the months that followed the proposal of the Charter of Values in 2013, the word “ostensible” religious symbols came under heavy critique because, as was specified by the Charter, religious symbols such as hijabs and kippas were considered ostentatious while crucifixes on necklaces, symbols often worn by practising Christians, were not. Similarly, in 2019, the term “religious sign” faced the same criticism. Thus, the law allows public institutions to retain Christian religious symbols such as large crucifixes on their walls (Crête, 2019b). Ironically, many militant secularists protested the removal of the crucifix from the National Assembly in Quebec because they consider it an integral part of the province’s history and cultural heritage that needs to be preserved. Yet the purpose of the legislation was to argue that if a symbol identifies the State with a religion, it should be changed or removed, even if it seems to only have heritage significance (Tremblay, 2009). In keeping with this notion of the separation of Church and State, Bouchard and Taylor (2008) advocated for the removal of such symbols as it advances one specific religion in a state that claims to be secular and religiously neutral. In an attempt to allay some of the critics of Bill 21, Legault agreed to remove the cross from the wall of the National Assembly. Where to go from here? The myths discussed above reflect a degree of religious illiteracy, Quebec's misunderstanding of some of its communities, and a misunderstanding of Quebec by many in the rest of Canada. The conversation is much more complex and steeped in historical tensions than many Canadians realize. To respectfully engage in this conversation with and among Quebecers, we all must:


1. Clarify what conception of religion and secularism we are using when we engage in discussion. With regard to religion, many people who are religious view their religious practices, beliefs, and experiences as comprehensive, impacting all areas of life, including politics. Others experience religion as more individual and private. 2. Recognize how power undergirds definitions of religion, typically arising from myths. Such myths can have a variety of origins, including both secular and majoritarian religious assumptions and impositions. 3. Understand the historical harms and tensions people in Quebec (and elsewhere in Canada) have in relation to a religion, and how that may inform all aspects of their policies and sociocultural lens. 4. Understand that despite these valid historical harms, projecting one's cohesive or individual experience onto another community group is detrimental to social cohesion and counter-productive. 5. Be cognizant that all forms of secularism aim for individuals in society to live peaceably with one another. 6. Understand that the history of religion and secularism are intertwined. Religion informed the development of secularism and secularism continues to govern religion. The two concepts cannot be separated for the purposes of policy, law, education, or any other aspect of life. These mutual relationships place responsibilities on all civic partners. To engage in this type of conversation (and counter religious illiteracy), we need a form of religious literacy that educates about religion and secularism, or more specifically, religion, spirituality, and non-religious worldviews. As a group of scholar-educators with a keen interest in the intersection of education, religion and society, we advocate a conception of religious literacy that responds and reflects the unique Canadian landscape as follows: 1. Understand the diversity in and between religious, spiritual, non-religious, moral and other worldviews among individuals, groups and traditions; that these terms are used interchangeably for individuals to refer to the same or different tradition as some are overlapping. This is to recognize the terminology, focus, belief or practice as defined by the individuals themselves; 14

2. Recognize the non-static nature of religious, spiritual, non-religious, moral and other worldview traditions as they are influenced by social, economic, political and cultural spheres of society across time and geography; 3. Understand each religious, spiritual, non-religious, moral and other worldview tradition from its own distinct worldview and not through the lens of another tradition, and that each tradition consists of several representations of a worldview; 4. Recognize Indigenous spirituality within a discussion of spirituality overall, and that an understanding of it is based on the terms and perspectives of specific Indigenous communities in Canada. Developing a comprehensive definition of religious literacy that includes an understanding of various conceptions of secularism as a worldview is important because of the dangers posed by a religiously illiterate society, including the potential for religious bullying, which occurs, based on one’s actual or perceived religious or non-religious affiliation, or even violent radicalization. To foster this understanding and ability to dialogue and engage with others, teaching religious literacy can help. Because K-12 teachers have such an influential role in the education of future citizens, there is a strong imperative to ensure that teachers are equipped with the content knowledge, analytical tools, and capacities for dialogue they need to engage with religious diversity in their classrooms. Scholars have argued that this is especially true for Canadian Social Studies teachers, who frequently need to facilitate discussions about religion (Patrick et al., 2017). However, K-12 teachers often lack this content knowledge and skills, creating an ongoing blind spot throughout the Canadian education system. The reasons for this blind spot are multiple and are often related to misunderstandings or myths about religion and secularism in our Canadian society discussed above, such as the belief that conversations about religion should not be permitted in public schools or the belief that religious identities are best ignored in the classroom (Reid et al., 2019). This can help foster an understanding in all parts of society for the long-term. It is necessary to address the generational misunderstanding that exists across all sectors and generations in Quebec, and the rest of Canada. We conclude by highlighting the need to reconsider the nature of public space. Both Robert Jackson (2004) and John Valk (2007) advocate that we view public space as plural space rather than secular space. Such a conception recognizes the diversity of religious traditions, and those with no such affiliation, in the population. The role of the state, then, is to ensure that public space is sufficiently open so that diverse people with a variety of commitments are able to contribute and participate in civic life. Certainly the state will need to maintain some sort of policing role as not all positions are valid in the public sphere, mainly those that 15

violate human rights codes. A clear understanding of hate speech and free speech, as understood in Canada and abroad, within our police forces, city councilors, and media, is vital today in order to prevent the reinforcement of negative myths and misunderstandings. Underlying this approach is an informed understanding and civic inclusion of all Canadians, their lived realities and nuances, rather than an attempt to live peaceably with one another based on myths about religion and secularism.


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