The Quebec Charter wants to create a more pluralistic and secular society and as a Buddhist monk, I wholeheartedly support their plan.
The reason I left the US and became a Canadian citizen is because I believe in Quebec values and their secular views. For instance, long before anyone else, civil and gay unions and marriages were legal here in the province. Not only that, but Quebec and provincial laws sought to prevent fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and Islamic communities from promoting their anti-gay rhetoric on local radio and TV stations; it was not that many years ago when I heard that hateful speech on public airwaves.
We must not forget that Quebec society has been working to create a more tolerant and secular society for decades, ever since the Revolution Tranquille. This occurred when Quebec society became aware of some of the dangers and problems that existed and had existed, for hundreds of years, because of Catholicism.
So the secular approach is nothing new, this is not an attack on Islam or religion in general, as many Muslims and Jews now claim as they hit the sidewalks of Montreal. In the past, women in Quebec were not equal to men, either in the church or society, and there is still much work that has to be done in society. Even in the church great inequalities between men and women, which is why there are still no female priests, bishops, popes, etc. Just as the Pope, a few years ago, declared that Catholics could do away with the concept of Purgatory, the Catholic church could change it's policies on women and allow women or nuns to serve as priests. As a matter of fact, celibacy in the Catholic church has recently been discussed, but it will be years, maybe centuries before women are allowed to become equal to men and serve mass.
We cannot simply say that the secular measures being considered are anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic—the measures would affect all religions, including Sikhs, Evangelicals, Protestants and Christians. Those who say this are simply baiting others and inciting hatred. Though some may argue that the use and presence of overtly religious identification is a part of their religion, Islamic scholars say that the wearing of female religious clothing, like the Hijab, is not, fundamentally, necessary to Islam. If it were, every single Muslim woman would have to dress accordingly and that is not so.
My feeling is that any tradition or religion which believes that women should be hidden from view is quite simply misogynistic in nature. Clearly these customs and ideas are more apparent in the Muslim and Jewish traditions, and they do not belong in the public sector workplace. Likewise, as we see, around the world, people who embrace these dressing traditions are no more accepting of women or others, but quite the opposite.
That said, I don't believe that we have to tear down the large crucifix/cross which sits atop Mont Royal, in the city of Montreal. It has been there for years. The Charter simply wants to promote secularism in governmental workplaces.
As such, however, and as an atheist and Buddhist, I do not believe that there should be a crucifix or cross in the National Assembly, because this is a government building. To say that this is acceptable because of Canadian history is ridiculous. We would have to ask why there are no representations of the Inuit, and First Nations, who were here thousands of years before the French and British arrived.
Having lived in Montreal for close to ten years, on and off, I must say that Quebecers, in general, are not very open-minded, especially when it comes to respecting the religious views of other people. Unfortunately, the majority of those who laugh at me or scream insults at me are not caucasian but Islamic.
It has been my direct experience that many religious people are far more intolerant of other religions than secular and non-religious, strangely enough, and that given the opportunity, some of those individuals would and do use any and all available platforms—including the workplace—to promote their own religious beliefs. That I abhor.
As a Buddhist monk, secular humanist, and atheist, I have my own views, but I am not going door-to- door to promote my beliefs and values. As such, I do not want the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Evangelical Christians to come to my house to try to convert me, and regardless of my desire to be left alone, they do not respect that.
Secular is, quite simply, better. Better for all of us. It helps to unite us as human beings, and does not divide us, and that is the importance. Secular institutions allow people to practice their own religions but do not allow the zealots amongst us to force others to listen to our views—something the Montreal Metro system should be aware of. Secularism protects the rights of all people, and not just the rights of the "religious" but those who do not believe in the theistic "God". Religion is a personal thing and belongs in the home and in a place of worship and there is no need to flaunt our religious beliefs in the workplace.