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Secularism and Atheism, and Bill 21


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Personal)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/06

Fareed Khan in the Ottawa Citizen made the argument that Bill 21 in Quebec, Canada’s, legislature is not about secularism, but, is, rather, about atheism as a way of looking at the relationship between the state, the province, and individual citizens in Quebec.

Khan stated, “… the manner in which the CAQ government of Premier François Legault is implementing its interpretation of secularism, and the anti-religious fervour apparent in the debate around the bill, demonstrates that the de facto state religion of Quebec is radical atheism, shrouded in the language of extremist secularism.”

With the separation of church and state, or place of worship and government, of religion and nation-state, within much of the western tradition, this becomes a premise or a part of the central arguments seen in the surrounding debate of Bill 21, insofar as Khan can see it.

“The intent of the principle is for the state to be neutral in matters of faith, not elevate the status of one faith over others, and allow citizens to practise their faith without fear of state coercion or persecution, particularly if their faith is different from that of the majority population,” Khan stated.

He does not see Bill 21 necessarily doing this. With the power of the Roman Catholic Church in the history of the Quebecois citizenry and the province of Quebec, this can create some interesting dynamics within the country. Indeed, there can be a shunning of religion, but only those not represented by the Catholic Church.

“Combined this with the historical racism that has been directed at minority communities in Quebec — particularly visible minority communities which are the targets of this bill — and you create a recipe for conflict,” Khan argues, “societal divisions and possible violence by radical, racist elements in Quebec who see these minority faith communities as threats to the “pur laine” nature of Quebec society.”

Khan makes comparisons with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and in China with the Falun Gong movement, into the present with the Uyghur Muslim minority population with mosques destroyed, Muslims imprisoned, and bonfires of Qu’rans in play.

Khan is careful to opine, “No one is saying that what is happening in China will happen in Quebec if Bill 21 becomes law. But history shows that the targeting and ‘’other-ing’ of minority communities leads to persecution, violence and ultimately atrocities.”

Others in commentary have differed on the association of secularism with atheism, and vice versa, and the notions of cultural religious displays, and so on.

Khan concluded, “The actions of Legault’s government make it clear that not only is it against public sector workers showing visible expressions of their faith, but it is also in favour of those same workers presenting atheism as the official faith of the Quebec government to the public as part of their jobs.”


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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