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The Anglican bishops of Montreal and Quebec have joined the Bishop of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to speak out against a new law that bans the wearing of the Niqab – the Islamic face covering – in the province of Quebec from people delivering or receiving a public service. Bill 62 was passed by the Quebec National Assembly last month, and is described as “an Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality”.
The Act purports to provide for religious neutrality in the provision of public services. Its introduction explains that “personnel members of public bodies must demonstrate religious neutrality in the exercise of their functions, being careful to neither favour nor hinder a person because of the person’s religious affiliation or non-affiliation or because of their own religious convictions or beliefs or those of a person in authority. However, this duty does not apply to personnel members of certain bodies while they are providing spiritual care and guidance services, or providing instruction of a religious nature.”
But it goes on to say that “Under the Act, personnel members of public bodies and certain other bodies as well as elected persons must exercise their functions with their face uncovered. In addition, persons who request a service from such a personnel member or person must have their face uncovered when the service is provided.”
Responding to the new law, Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson of Montreal, Bishop Bruce Myers of Quebec, and Bishop Michael Pryse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Eastern Synod, have issued a joint statement saying that they “feel compelled to express our deep distress at the manner in which the religious neutrality law passed by the National Assembly implicitly targets another minority religious group in this province.”
The Anglican and Lutheran leaders say: “Although veiled as a question of identification and security, Bill 62’s provisions regarding face coverings will most directly impact a small minority of Muslim women in Quebec, whose freedom to express their religious beliefs is enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“For Christians, these human rights are grounded in the dignity accorded each human being by virtue of having been made in the image and likeness of their Creator. The January 29 shooting massacre at Quebec City’s Grand Mosque” in which six Muslims were killed, “ and other acts of violence before and since, demonstrate that our Muslim neighbours live in a climate of suspicion and fear that threatens their safety.”
They continue: “Bill 62 helps foster that climate at a time when we are turning to our governments and public institutions to protect vulnerable minorities in our midst. We recognise and support the desire for Quebec to be a secular society. However, to be secular means to be pluralistic, allowing freedom of belief both in one’s private and public life. The provisions of Bill 62, however they are applied, unnecessarily put that fundamental freedom – and potentially people’s security – at risk.”
The conclude by inviting political leaders and all Quebecers “to join us in trying to foster a safe and welcoming environment for all who make Quebec their home, whatever their culture or religion.”