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Is Quebec creating a secular utopia?

By Margaret Somerville, MercatorNet

[...]  Many Quebecers, including politicians, even those not overtly hostile to traditional religion, believe religion has no place in the public square. They espouse the idea of a strictly secular society — laicization. As I proposed in MercatorNet last week, such secularism can be a form of religion, a “secular religion.”

To elaborate further on that idea, like a religion, it has an ideology and beliefs, but ones that reject the supernatural and divine. Adherents of this secular religion might even be fundamentalists, in that, like all fundamentalists, they seek to impose their beliefs on others. They proselytize on behalf of their “religion,” and they adopt a divisive “us” and “them” approach, not an inclusive one. They seek to handle difference through the exclusion of those they see as “not one of us,” not by reasonable accommodation of the differences.

Now let’s assume that the Parti Québécois has a dream of creating a secular utopia — a perfect society — and the charter of Quebec values reflects that dream and is part of an effort to realize it. (Another part is Bill 101, the Quebec language law that imposes the use of French, to which Premier Pauline Marois compared the charter of Quebec values in a speech to the youth wing of the Parti Québécois last weekend.) Bland asked Atwood “what can go wrong when perfection is sought in an extreme way?”

Atwood responded that this raises the question of “What do you do with the people who don’t fit in…? In order to achieve this wonderful future in which everything’s going to be terrific, who are you going to shove into a hole in the ground?”

Those are frightening words. Indeed, chilling. I am not in any way suggesting that Quebec would literally act in this way. But could the proposed charter of Quebec values’ banning of religious symbols be seen as a symbolic “shoving into a hole in the ground” the freedoms of expression, speech, belief, association and religion of the people affected, and a literal burying of their symbols?

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