[Raymond de Souza] Hole left by crucifix removal a metaphor for Quebec

[Raymond de Souza] Hole left by crucifix removal a metaphor for Quebec

Opinion
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[National Post] The crucifix that hung in the National Assembly of Quebec since 1936 was removed on Tuesday. Despite all-party support for the crucifix over the speaker’s chair in recent years, it became untenable in the face of the CAQ “secularism” law, which bans the wearing of religious garb by public sector workers.

VIDEO: [CBC News] The removal of the crucifix from Quebec’s National Assembly comes on the heels the province’s controversial Bill 21 which banned religious symbols in the workplace. Critics accused the province of legalizing religious discrimination. [June 17, 2019]


Premier François Legault had attempted to have it both ways, arguing that the crucifix was not “religious” but rather a cultural or historical item. It could be religious and cultural and historical, but it was absurd to say it was not religious. Quebec’s Catholic bishops long ago said that the decision about what hung in the chamber was up to the National Assembly but, whatever the decision, the crucifix could not be reduced to a cultural vestige or historical souvenir.

I don’t lament the removal of the crucifix. The empty space above the speaker’s throne is a better representation of Quebec’s public culture today, and much of what transpires in the chamber is at odds with Quebec’s Catholic history in any case. Yet the confusions about the crucifix also illustrate why the Quebec government is floundering on its secularism law.

The premise of the secularism law is that somehow to be in the presence of a visibly religious person acting in a public capacity is cause for offence. If that’s the case with a teacher or police officer wearing religious garb, then the same logic would apparently apply to the National Assembly. So the crucifix had to go.

But the premise is wrong. The religious identity of another is not a cause for offence; there is no right not to be in the presence of religious people. Good manners and genuine pluralism mean that we can even be in the presence of others offering public prayers that we don’t give internal assent to. That happens at city councils where prayers are offered, in parliamentary chambers or, increasingly, at public events when Indigenous invocations are offered, some of which are Christian and some of which are pantheistic.

This article continues at [National Post] The hole left by crucifix’s removal says much about Quebec today

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