The Quebec government is banning religious teaching at all of its publicly funded daycares, prohibiting everything from group prayers to craft projects involving religious symbols.
Family Minister Yolande James released a new guide Friday to religion in subsidized daycares that comes into effect next June.
As part of the new policy, daycares will not be allowed to teach prayers or any religious doctrine. Daycares that continue to do so will face sanctions including loss of their government subsidies.
"We clearly say that our daycare services that are subsidized are not places to teach faith," said James.
James said about 100 daycares in the province currently have a religious focus, such as those teaching the Muslim or Jewish faiths.
Private daycares will not be affected.
Symbols are OK, teaching is not
The guide outlines specific cases of what expressions of religion will be tolerated.
"There was this cloud of unknown which created a lot of insecurity for a lot of daycare services in terms of knowing what's going to be allowed and what's not," said James.
Religious symbols, such as a crucifix or menorah, will be allowed in daycares, she said. However, teaching the children about them would be a violation.
Christmas trees will be allowed.
Daycare workers will be allowed to say their own prayers or sing religious songs, but cannot ask children do the same.
In addition, religious leaders including rabbis, imams and priests will no longer be allowed to visit public daycare centres.
Muslim Council of Montreal spokesperson Salam Elmenyawi said he would support a constitutional challenge to the new rules.
Elmenyawi, whose group represents some Muslim daycares, said government bureaucrats should not be tasked with deciding what is right and wrong.
"It's dangerous because we start to design the society based on some lawmaker sitting in some offices," he said.
Groups representing Jewish daycares told CBC News Friday they wanted time to study the new rules before commenting.
Other groups representing daycare operators expressed concerns about how the rules will be enforced.
They asked the government to make sure inspectors are sensitive to the delicate nature of the issue, and to avoid being heavy-handed when dealing with individual daycares.