Would you mind if your child’s teacher was a Pastafarian and wore a colander on their head during class? Would you worry that your child might become a Pastafarian, too, and start wearing a colander? Would you worry that Pastafarians could take over the world and impose their views and policies on everyone?
True, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a.k.a. Pastafarianism, has only received limited recognition around the world as a legitimate religion (whatever that means), but its adherents see it as one as well as a social movement, and the colander worn by some Pastafarians has been recognized as religious headgear in some jurisdictions for the purpose of drivers’ licences and such. As a Wikipedia entry points out, Pastafarianism “promotes a light-hearted view of religion and originated in opposition to the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.”
Still, I’m pretty sure most school officials would take a dim view of their staff wearing colanders in the classroom. I figure most parents might agree with them, though I bet the kids would think it was kinda funny at first if a teacher showed up wearing a colander, and some of the kids would surely be borrowing the family’s spaghetti colander to wear at school. Hey, some might ultimately become Pastafarians themselves, eh?
I’m kind of doubting there would be a huge outcry if a school system or the state announced that they were barring teachers from wearing colanders in the classroom.
But what about other religious symbols? What about the hijab? The crucifix? The kippah? A turban? The Raëlian medallion? A Celtic cross? And on and on it goes. There are numerous religious symbols out there — even the Swastika, which was a religious symbol long before the Nazis adopted and corrupted it.
If you live in Quebec, you probably figured out where I’m going with this post early on. For those who don’t live in this province, here’s a quick backgrounder: The provincial government has passed a secularism law barring civil servants in positions of authority — such as teachers, police officers etc. — from wearing religious symbols on the job. There is a grandfather clause for those who were already employed and wearing them, but if they switch jobs while in public service, they must stop wearing their religious symbols.
It seems that the majority of people in the province support the law. But a very vocal minority is against it, and there are court challenges and newspaper editorials and columns opposing it as well as the odd demonstration in the streets.
Disclosure: Because of my job as a copy editor (and not a columnist) at a major metropolitan daily newspaper, I am not allowed to publicly voice an opinion for or against the law. Nevertheless, I can offer some thoughts, objectively speaking.
So, what’s behind the law? Why was it enacted in the first place?
Well, one newspaper column by André Pratte says Quebec’s “radical rejection of Catholicism” is behind the law. In the 1960s and ’70s, during what’s known as Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, the provincial government took control of the education and health-care systems, which had been until then under the control of the Catholic Church. The church lost all of its influence in Quebec, and church membership has since plummeted.
But why did it take the Quebec government until 2019 to finally pass a bill on secularism in public service?
Pratte doesn’t directly deal with that question in his aforementioned piece, but he does say this: “Remembering the abuses of all sorts committed by the priests, and forgetting all the good that they also did, people here have ousted Catholicism from the schools and deserted the churches. As they view it, they will not tolerate that other, foreign religions come in through the back door.”
He goes on to say that Quebecers are not so much prejudiced against individual religions but against religion itself — because of their negative history with the Catholic Church here.
And he mentions this:
In the words of Jean-François Lisée, an influential commentator, religious beliefs are all “founded on mythical stories and dogmas which we can easily demonstrate to be historical and scientific falsehoods.”
Still, until recently, civil servants could wear their religious symbols on the job. Various provincial governments over the years here have talked about passing a secularism law, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the current CAQ government — in its first term ever — passed Bill 21 establishing the policy of state secularism.
Why the urgency after all those years?
Of whom, you might ask.
In the minds of many, Bill 21 was taking direct aim at the Islamic community. Nobody had ever really cared about crucifixes and kippahs being worn by teachers and the like. But the increasing numbers of Muslims wearing hijabs in Quebec coupled with the extremist actions of terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda, who preached world domination and “death to the infidels,” set off all kinds of alarm bells in Western society. Add to that the oppressive policies of groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, which have made women second-class citizens to be treated like chattel — all in the name of religion.
Still, Quebec is not barring its citizens in their private lives from worshipping various gods or from wearing religious symbols in public. You see many such symbols if you stroll down Main St. on any given day — though, I’ve never seen anyone wearing a colander.
But Quebec has drawn a line: the state will conduct its business in a secular manner, independent of all the gods and their symbols.
That’s where they draw the line so that no religious group could impose their belief systems upon the populations like the Catholic Church once did. Or like the Taliban would do if they were to spawn a political party in Quebec.
Columnists decrying Bill 21 don’t seem to make the link between the goals of Islamic extremists and Quebec’s secularism law. They see female teachers being denied the right to wear the hijab in classrooms, and it tugs at their heart. Is it an oversight on their part?
I’ll leave that there for now because as previously mentioned, I can’t voice my view about all of this — other than to mention that I think the fear factor is being largely overlooked in the public debate on the issue.
And, OK, I would be curious to know if aforementioned columnists and editorialists opposed to Bill 21 would also publicly support a Pastafarian’s right to wear a colander in the classroom. After all, it’s a religious symbol for some . . .