Philosopher Charles Taylor hit the mark when he used the term "Putinesque" to describe a plan being considered by Quebec Premier Pauline Marois to ban individuals from wearing conspicuous religious symbols in the public-sector workplace. The ban would be an exercise of state power that is the farthest thing from the supposed goal of state neutrality on religion. Instead, it deems a set of deeply personal freedoms to be unworthy. That is much the same as what Russia's President Vladimir Putin has done by banning "gay propaganda," whatever that means.
What sort of democracy tells religious minorities – Jews with their yarmulkes, Sikhs with their turbans and kirpans, and Muslims with their headscarfs – that they and their rights are less valued than other people and their rights? (Christians would be permitted to wear crosses, as long as they aren't too large.) A Putinesque one.
This society doesn't really include you, the government is saying, unless you decide to give up on who you are and come along with us.
Can anyone make a case that a doctor or secretary with a head covering means the state isn't neutral in some way? And if minorities are deprived of this basic religious freedom in the public workplace, as broadly defined, how would minorities be treated in the private sector? The message of being second-class citizens would not stop at the border of government workplaces.
It was Mr. Taylor who, as co-chair of a Quebec commission on reasonable accommodation, once urged the province to remove the crucifix from the National Assembly. The assembly immediately voted unanimously not to, because it knew how deeply people are attached to that particular religious symbol – sorry, historical artifact. Justifying that one on a vital legislative building, while denying individuals their right to wear a religious symbol, is absurd, hurtful and bullying; in short, Putinesque.
Note to readers: This editorial has been updated to reflect a change made in the print version that wasn't made in the online version. The change reflects the fact that the Marois government is considering banning conspicuous religious symbols in the public sector workplace, not all workplaces.