A Response to Declaration For A Secular Public Service

Atheist Freethinkers, a Montreal-based Canadian atheist group, has recently released a Declaration for a Secular Public Service on their website which they are asking atheist/humanist/secularist organizations to sign. So far, Humanist Canada has been the only other signatory and let’s hope it stays that way.

The declaration calls for a blanket ban on public servants wearing any kind of religious garb whatsoever.

“…employees must refrain from displaying any obvious sectarian religious symbols of any kind. By “sectarian” we mean symbols which imply belonging to or adhering to a particular religious community or to the beliefs of a particular religion. Thus, each and every public servant, while on duty, must refrain from any behaviour and from the wearing of any clothing or accessories or ornaments which would clearly identify that individual with a particular religion or religious community.”

The statement goes on (and on and on and on) to describe why Atheist Freethinkers and Humanist Canada think that a blanket ban is a good idea, but don’t let it fool you. The timing and target are both telling. As many readers know, before its demise, the Harper administration was considering banning the niqab for public servants and this declaration is merely an attempt to use that recent controversy to further an agenda. Public servants have been wearing cross necklaces for years and it was never an issue. The declaration is nothing more than a thinly-veiled opportunistic attempt to discriminate against a particular religious group that some of the more strident nontheists among us have long targeted. If there is any doubt left that this is really about Muslims and the niqab, one needs only read yet another wordy statement penned by the all-male board of directors of Atheist Freethinkers, this one specifically about the niqab and using similar language to the declaration.

The declaration goes on to say that,

“…some religions, at least in some of their variants, promote gender inequality, homophobia, denial of freedom of conscience or worse.”

As a woman, I deeply resent the implication that the larger nontheist community is at all concerned with gender equality and that somehow, forcing Muslim women to unveil is a compassionate or feminist thing to do. The last thing we need as women is for more men (the majority of the Canadian atheist community) to tell us how to dress or to in any way imply that they know better than we do what is best for us. If Atheist Freethinkers or Humanist Canada really want to do right by their female members, they will reconsider issuing such a damaging statement and instead turn their efforts to real action where women’s equality is concerned, such as rooting out the persistent antifeminism in atheist groups. If they need help in that department, they can always come see me.

I joined Humanist Canada when I first came to this country in 2015 and it was as a concerned member that I reached out to them to gain clarification about the Declaration. As of this writing, I have received no response. Based on this racist and sexist statement, I will not be taking part in any Humanist Canada initiatives in the future and will most certainly not be renewing my membership in 2016.

 

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