Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Quebec Government Creates Committee on Religious/Cultural Diversity in Schools

The Quebec Minister of Education, Jean-Marc Fournier, announced today that he is creating a consultative committee on diversity in the province's schools whose primary task will be to come up with "a clear and accessible definition of what is a reasonable accommodation" between the needs of children from cultural and religious minorities and the values of the officially secular public education system.

Over the past decade, there have been numerous controversies in Quebec society over how much space should be afforded religious symbols in public institutions, whether it be the right of practicing Muslim girls to wear the hijab headscarf in class or the right of young Sikh men to show up at school wearing the ceremonial dagger or kirpan.

There have been a number of studies and reports on the topic in recent years, including material by the Quebec Human Rights Commission on religious pluralism and the "duty of reasonable accommodation".

As well, in the spring of 2006, the Library of Parliament published Freedom of Religion and Religious Symbols in the Public Sphere that compared the legislative context in a number of countries:

"This question touches on the presence of Islamic headscarves and Sikh kirpans in the school system, crucifixes in the courtroom and school, Sikh turbans in the workplace, and Jewish succahs on condominium balconies. Legal and public policy acceptance or accommodation of these religious symbols depends on a variety of factors, but is most often rooted in a constitutional proportionality test that balances the right to freedom of religion against the possible threat to safety, security and public order. However, different countries apply varying interpretations to this balance, driven by national political cultures and social histories that can have a profound impact on the scope accorded to freedom of religion through the interpretation of concepts of security and public order. While governments in traditional countries of immigration, such as Canada and the United States, perceive their role as one of accommodating all forms of religious expression in a neutral manner, more recent countries of immigration often apply a more restrictive and formally secular approach. In particular, France applies its historical policy of laïcité in a way that enforces strict secularism in the public domain, relegating overt forms of religious expression to the private sphere."
Earlier Library Boy posts on religion and law include:
  • Laïcité 1905-2005: Centenary of the Separation of Church and State in France (December 12, 2005): "Last Friday, December 9, marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the French law creating an active separation of Church and state, a concept known as "laïcité" and that is often translated as secularism."
  • Ontario Bans Sharia Arbitration (February 17, 2006): "The provincial government of Ontario passed legislation this week that bans the use of binding religious arbitration to settle family law matters, like divorce and child custody. The government was driven to pass the law by a public pressure campaign that took off last year against the possibility that a controversial set of Muslim rules and guidelines known as sharia would be used under the Arbitration Act, 1991."
  • Religious Law Guide (February 17, 2006): "The Guide offers an introduction to religious law with sections covering Islamic law, Jewish law, Christian Canon law, Hindu law, Buddhist Law and Confucian Law. Each section provides essential facts as well as details of Web, book and article sources available. There is also a list giving details of how religious law is implemented in a number of jurisdictions."
  • Monthly Newsletter on Law and Religion (March 12, 2006): "The French law blog Doc en Vr@c mentions La Lettre du droit des religions, a monthly online bulletin on law and religion produced by Sébastien Lherbier-Levy since late 2004. Each issue includes an editorial comment, a feature article, news items from France and the European Union, case law from the European Court of Human Rights (and domestic case law from French tribunals) as well as a bibliography."
  • Update to Monthly Newsletter on Law and Religion (September 27, 2006): "The most recent issue of the newsletter (Aug.-Sept. 2006) covers an interesting array of stories about reports, legislative proposals and court decisions in France and other countries and at the level of the European Court of Human Rights on topics such as religious cults, the wearing of religious symbols by public employees, the right of the media to print anti-religious caricatures or to broadcast documentaries criticizing practices of specific religious groups, etc."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:17 pm


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