The group that 12 years ago fought vehemently for the rights of students who wore a hijab in Quebec’s public schools is now trying to ban their teachers from wearing the Islamic headscarf and other “ostentatious” religious symbols while at work.

The Quebec Council on the Status of Women, a 20-member body that advises the government on issues relating to women, is urging the province to force public employees to remove visible religious signs when they are on the job. Aside from large Christian crosses, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes, these also include the hijab, a veil that generally covers the hair and neck, and the more controversial niqab, which covers the face, leaving only the eyes exposed.

The council argues that equality between men and women trumps religious freedoms, and that the symbols oppress.

“Freedom of religion must be limited, intrinsically, by the right to equality between women and men,” a “hallmark of the Quebec identity,” president Christiane Pelchat said in a statement, declining to comment last week.

“The niqab sends a message of the submission of a woman, which should not be conveyed to young children as part of a secular education, which is required to promote equality between men and women,” the council said.

In the proposed ban, it also stressed the protection of Quebec culture and the religious neutrality of state institutions.

It is a quite a different stance from the one Ms. Pelchat’s predecessor took in 1995, when Montreal high school students were being expelled for wearing a hijab and the council was defending them.

Then, council president Marie Lavigne advocated for the headscarf. She argued that a prohibition would infringe on freedom of choice and actually be sexist, as it would only affect female Muslims. (MORE)


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