Jews worried as Quebec moves to ban religious symbols on public workers
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Jews worried as Quebec moves to ban religious symbols on public workers

So-called secularism bill will keep police officers, teachers and others from wearing kippahs and crosses, but critics say real target is Muslim hijabs

In this file photo taken on December 7, 2018 Premier of Quebec François Legault looks on as prime ministers of the Canadian provinces gather for a meeting set-up by Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal, at the Marriott Chateau Champlain. (MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE / AFP)
In this file photo taken on December 7, 2018 Premier of Quebec François Legault looks on as prime ministers of the Canadian provinces gather for a meeting set-up by Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal, at the Marriott Chateau Champlain. (MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE / AFP)

MONTREAL, Canada — Quebec has introduced a bill that bans some public employees from wearing religious symbols at work, including kippahs.

The measure is intended to reinforce the separation of church and state, but critics say the real target appears to be Muslims and their hijabs.

The Quebec parliament introduced the “secularism bill” on Thursday proposed by the right-leaning coalition government of Premier Francois Legault.

The opposition, however, accused the government of rushing the legislation, with Liberal Helene David saying not enough time has been allotted to debate its impacts on “living together” as a society.

This is the fourth attempt by successive Quebec governments to pass a secularism law.

Among those who would be affected are teachers, police officers and judges. Along with kippahs and hijabs, Sikh turbans and crucifixes would be prohibited.

Polls show most Quebecers support the legislation.

The Jewish community is wary.

“We are very concerned with the new Quebec government’s statements regarding a ban on religious symbols displayed by government officials and displayed in public institutions,” said Harvey Levine, the Quebec regional director of B’nai Brith, suggesting the notion is “at odds” with Canadian values.

Montreal Jews protesting the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, which aims to restrict public displays of religious faith. (photo credit: David Ouellette/JTA)

“We call on the [Quebec government] to avoid the slippery slope of diminishing fundamental rights and work instead to secure religious liberties for all Quebecers.”

As an apparent sop to critics, the legislation has a grandfather clause that allows workers who now wear religious symbols to keep them on. But new public workers in “authority” positions could not wear religious symbols — they risk dismissal if they do not follow the ban.

The Quebec government, however, has already made it clear that it would invoke a rarely-used constitutional clause to quash any rights challenges.

“Some people will find that we are going too far, others not enough, and we are convinced that we have struck the right balance,” Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette told a press conference.

The government said the measure — combined with the removal of a cross installed in the main chamber of the national assembly in 1936 — underscored Quebec’s break with religion a half century ago, when it rejected the Catholic Church’s powerful influence in local politics.

In October 2017, Quebec’s previous Liberal government passed a bill banning face coverings for those receiving public services.

AFP contributed to this report.

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