THE BLOG

For Some, Quebec's Values Charter Could Be a Godsend

09/16/2013 12:35 EDT | Updated 11/16/2013 05:12 EST

Fact is, if I lived in Quebec and held a job in the public sphere, I'd be facing a serious dilemma -- should Quebec's charter of values be passed into law (and notwithstanding the myriad exceptions that may be available for a few years) would I quit work, or take off my kippah?

Thankfully, I don't live in that ill province, but had fate taken a different turn, truth is, I'm not entirely sure how I'd decide to adapt to the Charter of Quebec Values.

Since the Parti Québécois introduced its troublesome charter, the question least addressed has been: If push comes to shove and the thing becomes law, what are religious people going to do? My guess is people just assume religious people would quit work, keep wearing the hijab/niqab/turban/kippah/big cross and disappear from public employment (and, if they know what's good for them, from Quebec).

To my mind, this outcome is far from a sure thing. Indeed, there are two very good reasons why those affected by the charter might choose to take a different path -- to ditch the religious garb and keep their jobs.

The first reason is fairly straightforward: Unemployment is a terrifying prospect, and in Quebec, where the unemployment rate is high and rising, and where a puny 5,000 new jobs were created over the last year, it's downright chilling. Economic prospects are even worse for immigrants: Quebec has the highest rate of unemployment among immigrants of any province -- and the values charter, by targeting the religious (who are more often than not immigrants themselves, or second- or third-generation immigrants), will surely exacerbate the problem. If you're a religious person living in Quebec, in other words, you may very well feel the need to take off your hijab or turban so you can put food on the table.

The second reason some religious Quebecers might opt to discard their head and face coverings is far more complicated, and speaks to the kind of double-life many religious people who work outside their communities already experience.

A kippah or hijab -- even a super-sized cross necklace -- has the effect of separating the wearer from his or her (especially her) workplace. Even if almost all the people I've worked with have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, to emphasize that my work and religion have nothing to do with each other, there is always the lingering feeling the thing on my head could be holding me back professionally. I'm sure many hijab- and turban-wearers feel the same way.

This sort of premonition has led a fair number of religious people I know to decide to stop wearing their head coverings over the years -- sometimes only while they're at work, other times permanently (the latter, it should be noted, often evolves from the former) -- or, at least, to seriously consider the possibility.

It would indeed be a Canadian tragedy if religious people were forced to remove their religious coverings for the sake of making a living. And yet, for the religious people who were already considering the possibility of going bare-headed and -faced in an effort to give themselves a better chance at making a living, the values charter is actually a perverse sort of god-send, an excuse to stop looking religious without it appearing as apostasy (which it very well may be). The charter could be the best thing that ever happened to them.

In short, what appears to have been forgotten in the debate over the charter is that head and face coverings make the people who don them uncomfortable, too -- it's not just insecure Quebecers (and, if we're being honest, a substantial number of people in the rest of Canada) that are bothered.

We should do our best to adapt to the otherness of the visibly devout man or woman, but the wearer must accept there nevertheless may be a price to pay for wearing his or her religious covering of choice. It doesn't take an insane values charter to see that.

Read more things from me here, including Why It's Been a Good Year for Religion. Thanks.

Quebec Religious Headwear Ban