Quebec court upholds law banning yarmulkes and other religious symbols in the workplace

David Lazarus

MONTREAL (JTA) — A top Quebec court mostly upheld a provincial law banning Jews and other religious minorities who work in public from wearing religious symbols such as yarmulkes, crucifixes and hijabs in their places of employ.

The Quebec Superior Court ruled Tuesday that Bill 21 — also known as the “secularism” or “laicity” law — does not abrogate Canadian human rights charters. At the same time, the court agreed that the controversial law on religious symbols does not apply to the English-language school board that brought the case to court.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Jewish advocacy organization, said in a statement Tuesday that it was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

“[T]he provisions of Bill 21 … severely restrict religious freedom and the ability of Jewish Quebecers and other faith-based communities to freely pursue careers in the public sector,” the Toronto-based center said.

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Bill 21 was passed by the province’s Coalition Avenir Québec government in June 2019 ostensibly to promote state neutrality, and the law remains popular among Quebec citizens. But critics say the real aim of the law is to discourage Muslim women who are state employees from wearing hijabs to work.

The 242-page ruling by Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard was expected to be appealed to the province’s highest court, the Quebec Court of Appeal. The Quebec government has promised to invoke the province’s “notwithstanding clause” allowing it to override court rulings — a move the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also vowed to oppose.