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September 19, 2013

Question: Does Quebec’s Charter of Values really pose a threat to religious freedom?

Today’s answer will first address the effect of the Charter on the Bahá’í community.  Any government employees who are Bahá’ís will not be affected by Quebec’s proposed secular Charter of Values banning “ostentatious”, distinctive religious dress. The Bahá’í sacred writings do not require that Bahá’ís dress themselves in any particular way by which they may be identified as Bahá’ís. Some Bahá’ís wear a ring bearing a distinctive Bahá’í symbol, but this is not a law of the Bahá’í Faith, and it is not a practice that is observed by all. Ideally, any distinction Bahá’ís may have will not derive from a religiously identifiable item, but from their character and conduct. Character not clothing is the best garment.     

I don’t view it as my role here to issue condemnations of any provincial or federal government.  Nonetheless, when viewed objectively, we can say this much:  the proposed legislation is forcing government employees, who take their faith seriously, to choose between their job and their faith. This is a hard choice to make.  And, in this case, as for virtually any political issue, positions have become polarized and adversarial: rural vs. urban, religious vs. secular, federal  vs. provincial. A negative unity has been created, in so far as those religionists who feel their human rights are being threatened have united against the government.

Canada, especially in large urban centres, has become a pluralistic, ethnically diverse society, where members of all the world’s religions practically rub shoulders on a daily basis. This current controversy provides a learning opportunity. It allows the possibility for us to ascertain why distinctive religious dress is so important to the various religious followers; why it must be a requirement of faith.

Bahá’ís have valued for over a century now the concept of “unity in diversity”.  All the world’s religions are true and are revealed by God. Our sacred writings are our charter of values. They cherish the hope that followers of all religions will associate in close harmony without prejudice. They also cherish the hope that every government on earth will permit its citizens to practice their chosen faith peacefully and in good conscience.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen September 19, 2013
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