Fatima Houda-Pepin proposes middle ground on secular charter

Fatima Houda-Pepin is personally taking on the Parti Québécois and its proposed secular charter.

Former Liberal MNA tables Bill 491, a softer approach to State secularism

Independant MLA Fatima Houda-Pepin tables a legislation to modify the government's proposition on the legislation on the Charter of Values Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. Houda-Pepin left the Liberal caucus after she disagreed with Leader Philippe Couillard on the charter. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Fatima Houda-Pepin is personally taking on the Parti Québécois and its proposed secular charter.

Today, the former Liberal and now independent MNA introduced her Bill 491 at Quebec’s national assembly.

Houda-Pepin had a falling out with the Quebec Liberal Party over her position on the charter last month, leading to her resignation from the official opposition caucus.

The MNA has been outspoken about her support for state secularism for months.

“This is the straw that broke the camel's back," wrote Houda-Pepin in a letter to The Canadian Press last November. "Gender equality is a fundamental right in an era of fundamentalism. We must protect it, defend it and not put it at risk."

Her bill finds itself in the middle ground between the anti- and pro-secular charter factions at the national assembly. It amends the Charter of human rights to make provisions for religious neutrality at the State level.

Some highlights from Bill 491, otherwise known as An Act respecting the religious neutrality of the State and the fight against religious fundamentalism and to amend the Charter of human rights and freedom and the Act respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif:

  • All State personnel must exhibit religious neutrality in the exercise of their functions.
  • People in authority with the power to coerce (eg. judges, prosecutors, police and correctional officers) are prohibited from wearing conspicuous religion symbols in the exercise of their functions.
  • State personnel are prohibited from wearing a chador, niqab or burka.
  • It’s up to MNAs to determine, with a two-thirds majority vote, whether the crucifix will remain in the national assembly.
  • People delivering or receiving State services need to do so with an uncovered face.
  • No one can use their religious convictions to contest or refuse to comply with a preschool, elementary or secondary program offered by a State educational institution, nor may they have their child excused from compulsory school attendance on the same grounds.
  • Segregation based on gender identity or religious affiliation is prohibited in State bodies.

Read the entire bill and its proposed provisions here: