Montreal·POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Should the crucifix in Quebec's National Assembly come down?

The CAQ promises to move the crucifix out of its place above the Speaker's chair in the main chamber of the National Assembly. Should it go or should it stay?

The CAQ government is promising to move the crucifix that hangs above the Speaker's chair

The crucifix above the Speaker's chair in Quebec's National Assembly was hung there in 1936, by the government of Maurice Duplessis. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

It was unanimous.

The CAQ passed a motion Thursday promising to remove the crucifix from the main chamber of the National Assembly.

It hangs above the Speaker's chair, and it's been there since 1936.

With debate about religious neutrality in the province raging, Quebec Premier François Legault had initially said the crucifix was there to stay, describing it not as a religious symbol but a historical one.

But this week, when the CAQ tabled Bill 21, its proposed secularism law, it included a motion promising to move the crucifix out of the main chamber and into another part of the building.

Louis Rousseau is a professor emeritus of religion at Université du Québec à Montréal. He thinks the removal of the crucifix is a good thing.

Frédéric Bastien teaches history at Dawson College. He thinks the crucifix is a historic symbol, and it is a bad idea to take it down.

Dawson College history Prof. Frédéric Bastien, left, says the crucifix is a historic symbol, and it is a bad idea to take it down. UQAM professor emeritus of religion Louis Rousseau thinks the crucifix has no place in the main chamber of the National Assembly. (CBC)

Should the crucifix come down?

LR: It is a necessity [to take it down]. And it implies a certain level of courage, because it will be very much discussed....  It is a strong symbol, but then it's a symbol that contradicts the plurality of religious and non-religious people who are the citizens of Quebec.

FB: It was put there by Maurice Duplessis in 1936, but it didn't create a debate. It was to symbolize the values of a Christian society at that time, and it was not an issue for anyone. It was really something that people took for granted at that time. Now, of course, today I wouldn't be in favour of putting a new crucifix there had there not been one in the first place, but since this one was there in the first place, I think it's a mistake to [take it down].

Is it a religious symbol or a historical symbol?

LR:  We know that it is not a very old object. It has been brought in in 1936 under the Duplessis government.... It's not even a century old. At the time that it was put there, it was a devotional object. It was not only evoking the vast majority of the population from French origin who were Catholics by tradition — certainly, it did that — but it was also a devotional object. When the assembly sat and worked, it started always by a prayer. So, I mean, Catholics pray before the crucifix ... but we have changed, and this is a symbol that must be taken out — but respectfully.

FB: I think secularization and forbidding religious signs for public servants in authority is one thing. Removing the crucifix or other crosses in the National Assembly, other traces of our Christian past, is something else.… We could have done, as in France in 1985, when they voted a bill on laicity, they actually decided that they would not remove signs that were already on public buildings. They wouldn't take a chainsaw and remove all these signs, but they would actually not put new ones on new buildings and new constructions. I think this should have been the way that the government should have actually used to proceed. Should we take a chainsaw, for instance, and remove all the statues? … That would make no sense at all.

What do you think of the CAQ government's decision?

LR: I think the premier as has had to discuss quite strongly with his own members of the National Assembly because he had promised that he would not take that crucifix out. So we have here a bill which tries to make a lot of compromises to get a strong majority.

FB: I think it's making a concession to those who were critical of this bill on race day, and they focused, for some reason, on the crucifix at the National Assembly. I think they want to appease those who were against the bill, but I don't think it's going to actually have any significant impact on those who oppose the bill.

Based on interviews by CBC's Matthew Lapierre

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