Approved by the AAR Board of Directors on June 28, 2019
On June 16, 2019, the National Assembly of Quebec approved new legislation, Bill 21, An act respecting the laicity of the State, that prohibits certain civil servants (including public school teachers) from wearing any item deemed a “religious symbol” during the performance of their official duties. It also imposes new restrictions on those seeking to deliver or access public services. As Premier François Legault explained, the purpose of the new law is to promote a secular public square and to affirm that “in a secular society...religion must not interfere with the affairs of the state.”
Despite those stated objectives, however, we believe that this legislation violates basic principles of equality before the law and that these legal provisions can have significant injurious consequences for members of our organization.
The American Academy of Religion has publicly affirmed diversity, inclusion, and respect among its central core values as a scholarly organization, and we believe that this legislation will impose substantial and unequal burdens on members of numerous religious minorities who seek to engage in various forms of public service, including teaching. As scholars of religion, we are keenly aware of the fundamental difficulties in defining the amorphous concept of “religious symbol,” and those difficulties leave this law open to substantial potential for discriminatory and biased enforcement. In addition, important recent scholarship has challenged the notion of “secularism” on which this legislation is based, and this analysis underlines the potential of this law to have pernicious social effects on various minority groups.
We join with other political leaders, academics, and human rights advocates in opposing this new law. The values of pluralism and equality are key to modern democratic societies, and all members of society should be encouraged to participate fully in public life, including the core mission of public education. This legislation runs counter to those fundamental civic values.