Photo via CTV News.
On March 29th, the Minister of Education of Quebec, Bernard Drainville, issued a ban on prayer rooms in Quebec’s public schools, at the Legislature in Quebec City.
The Minister in the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) claims that the reasoning behind such a ban is that prayer rooms in public schools interfered with Quebec secularism laws.
The ban’s official terms have yet to be determined after Drainville’s presentation. The new ban will be applied to vocational schools, adult education centres, and, of course, public schools. The recent prohibition excludes Indigenous school boards and will not affect private schools in Quebec. At first, the Minister issued out to public schools in Quebec not to reserve specific rooms for students of faith. He furthermore imposed an interdiction for any space to be centred around a singular religion. Drainville moreover voiced out a need for spaces of worship not to disdain gender equality.
The Minister of Education claimed that “There are many ways to pray, I don’t want to ban prayer. I’m banning prayer in classrooms. Now, if people want to pray silently, that’s their fundamental right.” His statement demonstrates that the law would tolerate praying on the public school campus as the restriction would solely focus on utilizing classrooms to do so.
The Parti Quebecois (PQ), dissatisfied with Drainville’s ‘lenient’ decision-making, suggested a need for a stricter restriction. His decision has since then changed as he stated later on that no praying will be tolerated in any area on public school campuses.
Drainville, however, is not allowed to ban praying in public schools altogether due to its interference with the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. He has therefore stated that "Now, if someone wants to pray silently, that's their basic right," meaning that if one were to pray, they cannot be evident in their practice. This statement has led many to believe that there is a sort of injustice and maliciousness since each religion’s praying methods differ from one another, some being more evident than others.
The province of Quebec has had previous experiences where its compulsion to enforce secularism has differed from other Canadian provinces. Secularism in the province first made an appearance during the Quiet Revolution of 1960. The state’s faith had been weakened by a wave of atheism after Maurice Duplessis’ party, which had been tied with the Quebec Catholic church, lost the elections of June 22, 1960. The new Liberal Party gradually separated itself from the state, creating a change in educational systems, healthcare, and public welfare, which all impacted Quebec civilians’ lifestyles. Ever since then, Quebec has been trying to keep a certain level of modernity for various reasons, one of them being the competition with developed cities in North America and the need to uphold a certain contemporaneity.
This recent law has incited a possible court issue with the Government of Quebec and the Table de Concertation des Organismes Musulmans (TCOM). Upon the announcement of the new ban, the organization was shocked by its suddenness and believed that a warning or approach in advance would only have been fair. Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, claims that “We all agree with the idea of going to court. We find that our rights are violated and lawyers advise us to do the same.” The TCOM has kept to itself since then, but the compiling of religious restrictions might incite an insurgence with Quebec’s perpetual laws which aim to enforce secularism.
Drainville’s intolerance to religious representation has been known for quite some time now. In 2013, when he was a member of the Parti Quebecois, Drainville had come up with a new charter. The latter would forbid members working within public institutions from wearing religious attires. It was however rejected when the PQ lost the 2014 elections. This charter can be defined as a forerunner to the CAQ’s Bill 21, adopted in 2019. The Minister of Education later joined the CAQ during the 2021 elections, proliferating his secularist ideology.
According to an article titled “The Canadian Census: A rich portrait of the Country's Religious and Ethnocultural Diversity,” published by the Canadian government’s official website in 2022, it is stated that “Approximately 12.6 million people, or more than one-third of Canada's population, reported having no religious affiliation. The proportion of this population has more than doubled in 20 years, going from 16.5% in 2001 to 34.6% in 2021.” This religious decrease might furthermore desensitize others to the recent changes and restrictions implemented by the Minister of Education.
With Quebec’s deteriorating religious population, and the government’s insisting behests for a secularist province, the goal of having a state separated from religion, and the practice of religion, especially for targeted minorities, isn’t looking too promising.