Lise Ravary, a writer for the Montreal Gazette, makes the simple, crucial argument UD‘s been making since Blog Day One: Despite Katha Pollitt’s lazy claim that “religion is what people make of it,” religion actually isn’t anything people might claim it is. All sorts of acts, ranging from socially destructive to barbaric, are routinely defended as religious, and secular societies have an obligation to scrutinize these acts and when appropriate call them legally out of bounds.
“When she wanted to get the party going, a very progressive lawyer friend of mine liked to argue that female genital mutilation is none of the state’s business and should be allowed under the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms],” notes Ravary, who shares UD‘s incredulity that any self-respecting state would let this progressive lawyer have her way. Few things are more subject to state concern than large-scale physical assault against children.
States similarly have the right – again, I’d say the obligation – to respond to the desire of the people to sustain their secular identity in social places where this seems important. Thus, the bill Ravary talks about, which forbids religious symbols, “applies only to public service workers in positions of authority, including teachers, police officers, prison guards and Crown prosecutors, while they are at work.” So this means no, you cannot wear a niqab and teach at the same time; and if you are unable to imagine life in the social world without your niqab on you at all times, you are going to be unable to teach in the Quebec public sector. This is of course true of many other localities, including France and England.