During the Second World War a company of American soldiers was marching through France when a little old lady approached them with a broom over her shoulder. She joined the troops and began to march with them. The soldiers smiled at the lady and told her to please step aside because she could not do anything with her broom. “Maybe not,” came the reply, “but at least I can let them know whose side I’m on!”
This summer Quebec passed, “An Act Of Respecting The Laicity Of The Province”. The word “laicite (lie-ee-see-tay) means “secular state”. Also known as Bill 21, the law makes it illegal to wear any religious symbol at work if you serve as a public employee of La Belle Province: things such as a Catholic crucifix, a Jewish yarmulke, a Moslem hijab, a Hindu turban, a Mennonite cap, etc. Wedding rings are also banned, but only if you were married in a church, synagogue or mosque and not by a secular justice of the peace.
That long list of who’s prohibited includes: all elected officials, school principals, classroom teachers, police officers, peace officers, prison guards, crown judges, crown attorneys and the vast array of those in provincial ministry offices and services. And of course, there is budgeted money for enforcement officers and penalties in place for non-compliance. And this cultural law has the support of Quebecers. We know this because the Premier (Francois Legault) and his party (Coalition Avenir Quebec) promised to put such legislation in place if elected and Québécois responded by giving them a majority government with 75 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. The Liberal Party, which opposed the promised law, was reduced to a paltry 31-member opposition. As well, the National Assembly was the first to feel the effect of Bill 21 with the large crucifix above the Speaker’s Chair removed after being there since Quebec became one of the founding provinces in Canada in 1867.
All of which begs the question – How can this be in Quebec? In French Quebec? In French Roman Catholic Quebec? In the Province founded by Catholic missionaries? The answer lies in the numbers. On the one hand, Quebec is the most religious province in Canada, with 78% of its citizens identifying themselves as Catholic (that is more than double the Canadian denominational average). But on the other hand, Quebec is the least religious province in Canada with only 12% of its citizens attending church (that is less than half the national average of people in the pew on Sunday). And quite a change from 1950 when 88% of Quebecers attended weekly Mass, one of highest rates ever recorded in modern society. In other words, Quebec is Catholic in name, but not in deed (many Protestants, too). Even in Montreal, the Diocese has seen the number of its churches drop in half, from 50 to 25. As one French pundit put it, “Most of our people now only go to church three times – to have water put on them when born, to have rice put on them with married, and to have dirt put on them when dead.”
The bottom line? Christians are not required to wear signs of their faith, but the above is a sign of the times.