Demonstrators stand outside the courthouse on the first day of the constitutional challenge to Bill 21 before the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal on Monday, November 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Bill 21 supporters testify that religious symbols send wrong message to kids

Bill 21 supporters testify that religious symbols send wrong message to kids

MONTREAL — Students require a neutral environment in which to learn and one where equality between men and women is put first, parents supporting Quebec’s secularism law testified in court Tuesday.

Nadia El-Mabrouk, a computer science professor at Universite de Montreal, told the court that “wearing a religious sign — that shows a preference for a religion.”

“That influences children,” El-Mabrouk, who grew up Muslim in Algeria, testified. “And the religious education of children is up to parents.”

Last week, the court heard from four teachers — three Muslim and one Sikh — who testified that the law is discriminatory and has affected their ability to find work. Adopted in June 2019, Bill 21 bans certain government employees — including police officers, prosecutors and teachers — from wearing religions symbols while they are working.

For El-Mabrouk, the right of a teacher to wear a religious symbol shouldn’t be placed above the rights of children and their parents. Schools exist for children — not for teachers, she said. Students need to be protected from “any religious pressure and any religious proselytism,” she told the judge.

Veils and hijabs send the message that women have to cover their hair so they don’t arouse men, she said. “It’s a sexist message … and insulting for men as well as for women.” Men aren’t sexual predators, she added.

In several countries, El-Mabrouk said, women are fighting against laws that mandate they wear veils. The hijab, she continued, is viewed as a sign of virtuousness, and that puts pressure on women to wear it. She told the court that when she was in Algeria, she considered wearing a hijab, partly because of her beliefs but also because she feared the rise of political Islam.

It’s not rare for educators in Quebec to wear hijabs, she said, adding that at one point, nearly half of the staff at the daycare her children attended were veiled. “To keep the veil — even if it means losing your job — is a sign of religious fundamentalism,” she said.

Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard told El-Mabrouk that he heard contradictions in her testimony. He asked how educators wearing religious symbols violated her freedom of conscience.

“It conveys religious values that are against my values, including equality between the sexes,” she replied.

The judge asked whether teaching about diversity and tolerance is part of the mission of educators.

She said she considers the veil to be derived from political Islam and that to respect diversity, it’s important to avoid offending people who have had difficult experiences with religion.

Teachers are a substitute for parents at school and represent authority, El-Mabrouk said. Crucifixes were removed from classrooms across Quebec, she said, adding that teachers must also demonstrate secular values.

Francois Dugre, a philosophy professor and the father of two children, told the court Tuesday that the legal debate around the secularism law has put too much emphasis on the rights of teachers and not enough on the rights of children.

Dugre said that even if a teacher wears a religious symbol in the classroom but isn’t actively proselytizing, freedom of thought and free discussion are hindered. “It doesn’t encourage certain debates,” he said.

The two witnesses said they have nothing against people who wear religious symbols. They argued, however, for religious neutrality in Quebec’s primary and secondary schools.

Quebec’s secularism law is being challenged by several groups. The hearings in Montreal combine four lawsuits challenging the law on the grounds it discriminates against religious minorities, particularly Muslim women.

The trial will continue Wednesday with testimony from experts called by the Quebec government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2020.

Stéphanie Marin, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

(File photo by Advocate staff)
37-year-old from Red Deer dies in highway crash

An individual from Red Deer has died after a collision on Highway… Continue reading

Grade one teacher Heidi Dimou arranges the desks in line with physical distancing policy in her class in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta students expected to return to in-person learning next week

Kids can anticipate a return to the classroom next week in Alberta.… Continue reading

This grizzly bear had been hanging out near Aurum Lodge and the Cline River area and was later killed by Fish and Wildlife, says an area resident. (Contributed photo)
Grizzly sniffing for human food west of Nordegg killed

Lodge owner reminds campers to keep all food away from wildlife

Coal mining in Rockies. CP photo
Alberta gov’t releases preliminary results from coal mining survey

The provincial government has released the initial results from its coal policy… Continue reading

(Black Press file photo.)
Wildfire advisory lifted for Rocky area

The wildfire danger in the Rocky Mountain House Forest Area is now… Continue reading

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

(CPAC)
Trudeau says he knew about investigation into general overseeing vaccines weeks ago

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he learned weeks ago that… Continue reading

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine and avoid quarantine on return if they meet some straightforward conditions, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Canadians can drive to U.S. for COVID-19 vax and avoid quarantine, Ottawa confirms

TORONTO — Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Quebec can modify part of the Canadian Constitution unilaterally: Trudeau

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Quebec can unilaterally modify part… Continue reading

In this Thursday, April 29, 2021, file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, West Germany. Canadian environmentalists are welcoming a report from the International Energy Agency that says new fossil fuel investment must end if the world is to meet its climate goals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Martin Meissner
Canadian environmentalists happy with International Energy Agency report

Environmentalists say a report from the International Energy Agency that concludes investment… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ceasefire needed in Israeli-Palestinian conflict to avoid loss of more civilians: PM

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is calling for a… Continue reading

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
Saskatchewan wildfire grows, forcing evacuations in the area to expand

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Dry conditions and strong winds caused a large… Continue reading

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tam hopeful for summer even as Canada hits grim death milestone in COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she expects… Continue reading

Sheffield United’s Daniel Jebbison celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Pantling/Pool via AP
Canadian teenager Daniel Jebbison turns heads with Premier League goal

Jebbison, 17, is the youngest player in Premier League history to score on his first start in England’s top tier

Most Read