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Quebec Premier François LegaultCBC News / YouTube

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MONTREAL, Quebec (LifeSiteNews) — Quebec’s highest court has upheld the province’s secularism law which bans civil servants from wearing religious symbols while at work.  

On February 29, the Quebec Court of Appeals ruled that that the province’s secularism law, Bill 21, is constitutional and overturned a previous decision which exempted English schools from the law.   

“The Act does not offend the unwritten principles or the architecture of the Canadian Constitution, nor does it offend any pre-Confederation statute or principle having constitutional status,” Appeal Court justices, Manon Savard, Yves-Marie Morrissette et Marie-France Bich wrote in their decision.  

Bill 21, passed in 2019, bans all public servants, including public school teachers, police officers, government lawyers, and wildlife officials, from wearing any religious symbols while at work.  

However, citing its commitment to “diversity, acceptance, tolerance and respect for individual rights and religious freedoms,” the Montreal English School Board indicated that it would not comply with the new law. 

While the Quebec Superior Court exempted English schools from the secularism law in April 2021, the new 290-page ruling overrides the lower court’s decision.  

The Superior Court decision was challenged in November 2022 by various civil liberties groups in addition to the Quebec government, which argued it created an unfair distinction between English and French schools.   

The new decision relies on the province’s use of the notwithstanding clause, which allows the province to override most challenges to the legislation. 

The notwithstanding clause, embedded in section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows provinces to temporarily override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect new laws from being scrapped by the courts.  

“The court has confirmed Quebec’s right to make its own decisions,” Premier François Legault told reporters in Montreal Thursday. “Secularism is a collective choice that is part of our history, in continuity with the Quiet Revolution. Secularism is a principle that unites us as a nation in Quebec.”  

Legault confirmed that the province will continue using notwithstanding clause for “as long as it is necessary for Canada to recognize the societal choice of the Quebec nation.” 

He added that the law is “non-negotiable” as the province recently tabled legislation to renew the application of the clause to Bill 21 for another five years. 

While the decision was celebrated by the Quebec premier, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) called the ruling a “painful setback.”  

“This is a heart-wrenching day and highlights the urgent need for people across Quebec who have stood up for the values of equality, justice and freedom to continue to raise their voices,” CCLA Executive Director and General Counsel Noa Mendelsohn Aviv said in a press release  

“These values are the ones that fuel our legal challenge and that lie at the heart of our collective struggle against Bill 21,” Aviv declared.  

Similarly, Quebec Life Coalition President Georges Buscemi told LifeSiteNews, “This decision is completely consistent with the recent historical trend in Quebec, which is one of rejecting its Catholic heritage in favor of a liberal ‘enlightened’ worldview, which considers religion to be a purely private matter.” 

“This decision confirms the ‘legality’ of Quebec’s secularism law, which purports to make the state ‘neutral’ with respect to religions,” he continued. “Whatever the intentions of this law, its effect is to extirpate all signs of religion from the public square, from Knights of Columbus meetings in community centers to prayer in daycares. So called state-neutrality is quickly becoming state atheism in practice.” 

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