CLF advocates for freedom of religion in Quebec

CLF advocates for freedom of religion in Quebec
Submission endorsed by 116 lawyers, retired judges, professors and students

Religious symbols are not a mere ‘fashion choice’. For many believers, they represent an act of worship and religious expression, compelled by sincerely and deeply held convictions that are “immutable or changeable only at unacceptable cost to personal identity”. Bill 21 forces those believers to choose between their faith and their jobs. Just as a “tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews”, a ban on wearing religious symbols is a ban on religious people. This is unacceptable in a free and democratic society.
— CLF’s submission (references omitted)

On May 14, 2019, Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) submitted a legal brief to the National Assembly of Quebec (Committee of Institutions) regarding Bill 21, which seeks to ban the wearing of religious symbols by certain public workers.  As stated in CLF’s submission, while the legislation purports to be advancing ‘religious neutrality’, it does the exact opposite. By effectively banning citizens of certain faiths from public employment based on their religious expression and identity, the Bill is promoting an anti-religious public square. This, CLF explains, is “not true neutrality, but an ‘excessively radical conception’ of ‘complete secularity’ – one which is hostile, not neutral, toward religion” (citing the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Saguenay).

 Underlying the legislation seems to be an assumption that one can not express their faith in any way – or even be perceived to be religious – without harming public confidence in government and the justice system. CLF’s submission explains why such reasoning is erroneous, and how the exercise of one’s public duties may be enhanced – not prejudiced – by their religious commitments and background. 

The CLF submission also responds to the government’s invocation of the Notwithstanding Clause, and explains why it does not immunize the Bill from judicial scrutiny. Citing Canadian and international law, the brief explains: “Freedom of religion does not rise and fall with the Charter. All people have an inherent and inalienable right to freedom of religion, which not even the Notwithstanding Clause can eradicate.”

 As a community of religious lawyers, CLF also expressed concern about provisions of the Bill specifically targeting legal professionals, such as prosecutors and other lawyers who contract with, or are under the authority of, a government body. CLF stressed: 

As lawyers of faith, we view the practice of law as a manifestation of our religious commitments. Our religion is what compels us to serve our clients with compassion and to seek justice with integrity. It would be a profound loss to the public interest and common good if religious lawyers – based solely on their identifying with those very faith commitments – were denied the opportunity to participate equally in the administration of justice.
— CLF’s submission

CLF’s submission calls on the National Assembly to reconsider the legislation in order to respect a true understanding of state neutrality – one that “exists not to coerce irreligious uniformity, but to promote and enhance religious diversity.”

Read More:

Read CLF’s submission to the National Assembly of Quebec in French and English.