Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Religious Freedom In Quebec

The Premier of the province of Quebec, Jean Charest, has proposed sweeping legislation that would ban Muslim women from giving or receiving public services (which in Canada would include things like visiting the doctor or attending university classes) if they are wearing veils. I find the spread of French-style religious discrimination to North American shores disturbing. Canada has always concerned itself somewhat less with freedom of expression than the United States (see its speech codes, of which Ann Coulter recently ran afoul), but like the U.S., it is a multicultural nation founded by, and populated by the descendants of, immigrants from a large number of countries, not the ancestral homeland of a particular ethnicity like so many of the nations of Europe. Indeed, many of the Canadians I've met in my travels are proud of their nation's multicultural heritage. As such, I fail to see how any government there has a legitimate interest in forcing immigrant women to assimilate themselves against their will to Canadian cultural norms in the sphere of personal dress. A free, pluralistic society may have cause to intervene in the cultural practices of an immigrant community when those practices are materially and patently harmful to the rights of individuals (e.g., female genital mutilation, blood feuds, etc.) The veil, as distasteful as I find it as a westerner, is just a piece of clothing, and one that Muslim women in North America wear by choice, if they choose to wear it at all. It does not remotely rise to those standards, and it is hard for me not to believe that discomfort with Islam and the cultural associations of the Muslim world in general do not have something to do with legislation like this.

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