A Canadian court upheld this week part of a Quebec law that bans government employees from wearing religious symbols at work.
With the only exception being existing employees, the law’s original language banned civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work.
The April 19 court ruling created exceptions for English-speaking public schools, citing minority language education rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Members of Quebec’s provincial parliament are also exempted from the ban, under the principle that all persons are eligible for public office.
Auxiliary Bishop Marc Pelchat of Quebec told CNA April 21 that “like other groups and institutions in Quebec society, we take note of this judgement, which will be appealed. The issue is therefore not entirely settled.”
Bishop Pelchat said that everyone should be concerned for the vulnerable people affected by the law on laïcité. The bishop recognized the legitimate right of the government of Quebec to legislate on relations between the state and religions. However, he said that “the bishops would only have liked law enforcement to distinguish between teachers and other categories of state employees.
“We will follow the course of events with attention,” Bishop Pelchat said.
The 2019 ban includes, for example, hijabs for Muslim women and crosses for Christians. It covers judges, police officers, teachers, and other public figures, the BBC reports.
The law follows a trend of increased scrutiny for religious symbols in Canada and elsewhere in recent years.
In 2019, Montreal’s City Hall announced that a crucifix taken down during renovations would not be returned to its display. City councilor Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde said the religious symbol was no longer relevant.
In 2012 an appeals court upheld a ruling forcing Catholic schools to teach a province-mandated religion and ethics course while restricting teachers presenting from a Catholic perspective.
Europe, too, has also seen debate over religious symbols in recent years. In 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a ban on religious symbols in the work place. The court ruled that it is not directly discriminatory for a workplace to ban “any political, philosophical or religious sign” if the ban is based on internal company rules requiring neutral dress.
A ban on teachers wearing religious headscarves was ruled unconstitutional in a German court in 2015. In Austria and the German state of Bavaria, full-face veils are banned in public. France banned religious symbols and veils in schools in 2004.
In 2013, four Christian British Airways employees won a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled their employer engaged in illegal discrimination for telling them they could not wear their crosses.