Hearings on Bill 60: The Quebec Charter

On Thursday, February 13th 2014, David Rand and Jacques Savard, representatives of the association Atheist Freethinkers appeared before public hearings of the Commission des institutions of the Quebec National Assembly, on the subject of draft Bill 60 entitled “Charter affirming the values of secularism and religious neutrality of the state and equality between women and men and governing accommodation requests.”

The video is in French; however, David Rand has provided an English translation of the presentation. The AFT position is very clear:

We, Atheist Freethinkers support the proposed Bill 60, but not without some reservations. We commend the government for having the courage to propose quasi-constitutional legislation which declares that public institutions must be religiously neutral, thus taking a major step in Quebec’s long process of secularization which began more than half a century ago.

During his presentation Rand discussed some of the “shortcomings” of the bill and proposed some additions:

we propose that a new Article 1, officially proclaiming state secularism, be added to Bill 60 just before the existing article 1:

 

1. Declaration, definition and principles of secularism and neutrality

  • The Quebec state is secular in order to protect the independence of political and administrative functions of the state from the influence of religious beliefs and institutions.

  • The Quebec state is neutral with regard to the various religious beliefs and institutions, in order to respect everyone’s freedom of conscience, which it has a duty to protect.

  • Neutrality in matters of religion requires that the state abstain from granting privileges to any religious belief or organisation in any way. This obligation of neutrality also applies to organisations and agents of the state.

At the end of his presentation, Rand spoke on behalf of unbelievers:

At no point does legislation define freedom of conscience. Neither does it state explicitly that this freedom may take the form, among others, of freedom of apostasy, the freedom to change one’s religion and the freedom to be an atheist. Explicit mention in law of apostasy is particularly important because several religions punish it severely, even going so far as the death penalty.

 

Accordingly, we strongly recommend the explicit inclusion of freedom of unbelief and freedom of apostasy in legislation. . . . We also ask that these freedoms be formally and explicitly enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to protect unbelievers and apostates against the discrimination of which they are too often the targets.

Bravo David Rand and AFT!

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