Society & Politics

The state cannot decide what is a religious symbol

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Ian H. Henderson


What place is there for personal religious identity in a secular public sphere?  This is one of the questions raised by the proposed “Charter of Quebec values” of Quebec’s ruling Parti Québécois.  The Charter would make it illegal for individuals to wear certain religious symbols, such as large crosses, burkas, or yarmulkes, in publicly-funded settings.   

Ian H. Henderson, professor of Religious Studies at state-funded McGill University, and also a confessing Christian, protests that the definitions of “Quebec values” and “religious symbol” are ambiguous and open to abuse.  For this reason, and because other sorts of personal identity markers (e.g. ethnic, political, and sexual) receive eager affirmation across Canada, Henderson concludes that expression of personal religious identity is not a matter on which the Quebec government should legislate.  The passion evident in Henderson’s article bears witness to the significance of the issue in Quebec society.  Christians across Canada and in other democratic countries should take eager interest in the way Quebec Christians are approaching this challenge to religious expression. 

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How does the proposal of a Charter of Values relate to the drive toward secularization occurring in Quebec over the last several decades?  Why has this drive occurred, and what is a compassionate Christian response? 

How may the common good and human flourishing best be promoted on this issue of personal religious expression in the public sphere?     

Source: The Globe and Mail

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