France and Quebec's Views Aren't so Different on Religious Plurality

Updated: Mar 29

Opinion by Daniel Diamond

This piece is part of Kroeger Policy Review's first issue on Race, Religion, and Culture. The full issue is available here.


In terms of religious pluralism, France and Canada hold different values; en masse, Canada as a nation is one that holds great indifference to the religions held by Canadians (1). This relaxed behaviour towards various religious practices may be due in part to the fact that, overall, fewer Canadians are attending religious services than they have been in decades past (2). However, this passive attitude towards religious pluralism, as of the beginning of the century, has been ceasing in Quebec.

In a 2008 study, forty percent of Quebecois interviewed identified “non-christian immigrants as a detrimental threat to society (3).” And with that in mind, just eleven years after the survey was conducted, Quebec premier Francois Legault banned the wearing of religious headwear for those in certain public professions. Some may see the bill as an act of state-supported racism, while others see it as an act “...to ensure the separation between religion and state in an abidingly secular province (4).” As “secular” as this bill may have been in aim, in practice it was a thinly veiled attempt to discriminate against religious minorities. This is clear from the dangerous consequences it had on Muslim communities in Quebec, since the inception of the bill, in 2019, the Muslim community made up sixty-one percent of hate crime victims in Montreal through the first four months of last year (5).

The idea of a French-speaking state banning the wearing of religious headwear is not a new idea. In 2004, the senate of France passed a discriminatory bill banning the wearing of religious symbols for those with jobs in public schools (6).What this bill recognizes, for France, is that the right of the citizens to represent themselves within any religious group is not as important as France’s drive and push towards a secular state. Although this bill does not specify or single out any religious group on paper, reality paints a different picture (7). Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse, in their book Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France, outline that “the [state] demands a large sacrifice from its female Muslim population to contribute to the idea of a secular republic (8)” signifying that the banning of religious headwear in public schools, although does not specify any single religion, those of the Muslim faith, specifically women, are disproportionately affected by the bill.

As Quebec and France have made concerted efforts since the beginning of the century to become increasingly secular, it is clear that each time Muslim women are not only asked to alter forms of self-expression and religious identity, but these bills and laws put Muslim communities and other communities of religious minorities in the spotlight as a target. As well as in France, as even as recently as late October of this year two Muslim women were the victims of a violent hate crime near the Eiffel Tower where they were stabbed repeatedly, and called “Dirty Arabs (9).”This is further proof that even in Western states, not every citizen is truly free and equal while these predatory and victimizing laws are still in place in France and Quebec.

  1. Reimer, Sam. "Chapter Five. Does religion matter? Canadian religious traditions and attitudes towarddiversity". In Religion and Diversity in Canada, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004170155.i-228.32

  2. Ibid.

  3. Howard Adelman and Pierre Anctil, Religion, Culture, and the State Reflections on the Bouchard-Taylor Report (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 100.

  4. Dan Bilefsky, “Quebec Bans Religious Symbols in Some Public Sector Jobs,” The New York Times (The New York Times, June 17, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/17/world/canada/quebec-religious-symbols-secularism-bill.html.

  5. René Bruemmer, “Muslims the Main Victims of Hate Crimes in Montreal This Year,” Montreal Gazette (Montreal Gazette, June 21, 2019), https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/muslims-the-main-victims-of-hate-crimes-in-montreal-this-year

  6. “Secularism.” Senate of France . Senate of France, March 15, 2004. http://www.senat.fr/dossier-legislatif/pjl03-209.html.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Laurence, Jonathan, and Vaïsse, Justin. Integrating Islam : Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France. (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2006), 163. Accessed November 5, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

  9. Lee Brown, “Two Muslim Women Stabbed, Called 'Dirty Arabs' in Eiffel Tower Attack,” New York Post (New York Post, October 21, 2020), https://nypost.com/2020/10/21/muslim-women-stabbed-called-dirty-arabs-in-eiffel-tower-attack/.

Disclosure: An earlier iteration of this article was written and submitted as part of a term paper for a class previously taken by the author. Since then, considerable changes have been made to its structure and content to ensure the absence of plagiarism.

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