Jean Sebastien Tremblay and Kristyn Vlahakis are both educators living in Montreal, but they have opposite opinions on a proposed ban of religious symbols and clothing for teachers and other public employees who work in the Canadian province of Quebec.
"I don't consider my clothing as a religious symbol. I consider my clothes as clothes, i.e. things to cover me. I cover more of my body than some people, that's all. It's just part of a spectrum of human behaviour," says Vlahakis, who adds she would have to abandon her profession if the ban becomes law.
"A teacher has to be neutral in front of their students, has to be equal with his or her co-workers. ... If somebody believes in God, great, but they don't have to show it, especially when in a position of authority," says Trembley, who calls the proposal "excellent."
"The proposed 'Charter of Quebec Values,' which would also require members of the public to uncover their faces when dealing with the government, generated widespread controversy after much of it was leaked to a Montreal newspaper earlier this summer," The New York Times reported. "Critics have called the measure unconstitutional and xenophobic. But the Parti Quebecois government has described its charter as a way to maintain a secular and cohesive society."
But the charter faces challenges politically and legally.
"The (minority Parti Quebecois) will need the support of another party to get the bill through provincial parliament," the Wall Street Journal reported. "Jason Kenney, a federal government minister, said he was "very concerned" by the proposed legislation and said the federal government will challenge any law in courts if they deem it unconstitutional. Lawyers say the law may infringe constitutional rights of freedom of religion and expression.
"Political analysts say they believe the Parti Quebecois will relish these challenges, allowing them to argue that Quebec's identity and future can only be safeguarded outside of Canada."
While supporters in the provincial government say the charter is designed to promote harmony and cohesion, opponents say it will accomplish just the opposite. Premier Pauline Marois stoked fears of minority faiths in Quebec when she told one local paper that "multiculturalism in the U.K. had fed homegrown terrorism and social unrest," the Journal reported. "The bill's critics say it lets off many Christian traditions, allowing, for instance, Christmas trees in public spaces."
While no such proposal is being floated in the United States, a report released over Labor Day said religious discrimination is rampant in the workplace, according to a recent report in the Deseret News.
The report by the Tanenbaum Center for Religious Understanding concluded that as the workforce becomes more diverse along with society in general, managers can expect a corresponding rise in religious-related conflicts, ranging from harassment to a lack of accommodations for prayer and other practices employees are legally entitled to engage in at work.
Just such a conflict arose for Umme-Hani Khan while working at the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. The company said Khan couldn't wear a head scarf at work. She said her Muslim faith required her to wear a hijab and the company fired her for violating its "look policy."
Khan filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a federal judge this month found Abercrombie acted with "malice (and) reckless indifference" and owes Khan damages that will be determined at trial, NBC reported.
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