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Rights for all

The neutrality of the state

State neutrality stems from freedom of religion

State neutrality stems from freedom of religion

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Freedom of religion is protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms: Section 3 guarantees fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religion, and Section 10 prohibits discrimination based on religion. The principle of the state neutrality stems from these sections.

Indeed, every individual is free to practice the religion of his or her choice. The state cannot promote or disadvantage any religion.

The state must remain neutral regarding religions, not only to ensure every individual’s freedom of religion and conscience but also to prevent discrimination based on religion, a right protected under the Québec Charter.

Did you know?

The prayer at the National Assembly has been replaced by a moment of silence since 1976.

 
 

Wearing a religious symbol does not compromise the state’s neutrality

The state’s institutions must be neutral, not the individuals. Public service employees, as well as people using government services, have the right to freedom of religion and conscience.

Although the duty of religious neutrality does not apply to public service employees, they have the duty to do their work in an impartial manner and without proselytizing (which means not trying to convince others to join one’s religion).

Wearing a symbol of one’s religion does not mean a person is trying to impose his or her religion to others or is proselytizing. Wearing a religious symbol does not prevent an employee from doing his or her work in a neutral and impartial manner.

The state cannot use religious neutrality to justify banning a public service employee from wearing a "conspicuous" religious symbol in the workplace. On the contrary, the state’s neutrality ensures people the right to practice their religion.

Thus, asking a woman to take off her hijab when working in the public sector contravenes the Charter, as does asking a civil servant to remove his kippa or his turban.

 
 

A clearly defined right

Freedom of religion includes the right to declare religious beliefs openly and practice a religion "without fear of hindrance or reprisal".

Furthermore, the right to freedom of religion also includes the right not to be forced to act in a way that is contrary to one’s beliefs. Also, the state cannot impose to an individual its interpretation of any given religious practice.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it does not prevail on the other rights guaranteed under the Charter. This means that freedom of religion could be limited if the rights of another person or the common interest are affected by the exercise of this right.

Find out more: Religion in the public space (in French only, PDF, 1Mo)
 
 

The state’s duty of religious neutrality: an example

A public institution has the duty to be neutral, and cannot endorse any religious ritual or practice. Thus, saying prayer at the beginning of a city council public meeting contravenes the duty of neutrality of public authorities and infringes, in a discriminatory manner, on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion of individuals.

Find out more: Religion in the public space (in French only, PDF 95 Ko)
In its institutional structures, norms and practices, the state may not promote or disadvantage a religion. Neither may it compel anyone to have, or not to have, certain beliefs; or to adopt, or not to adopt, certain religious practices 

This information complements the Commission’s comments published on October 17, 2013.

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