Quebec court refuses to suspend law banning religious symbols

By Anna Mehler Paperny – Reuters

The Quebec Court of Appeal refused on Thursday to suspend a law banning the wearing of religious symbols by public employees in the Canadian province, although more legal battles await.

The law, which the Quebec government said was designed to preserve “laicite” or secularism in the mainly French-speaking province, prohibits many types of civil servants, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed claiming the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The appeals court ruling came on a motion by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims that argued the law was outside Quebec’s jurisdiction, impermissibly vague and violated constitutional guarantees of equal access.

The court heard from women who were refused teaching jobs because they wear hijabs. And while judges agreed those women had suffered irreparable harm, in a 2-1 ruling they said that at this stage the court had to assume the impugned law serves a “valid public purpose.”

“I’m beyond disappointed,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the Civil Liberties Association’s Equality Program.

“We have a horrendous law on the books and we were very much hoping that relief would be granted by the court to people who really need it, who just want to go to work and feed their families and live in a free and equal society. That’s what we were hoping for and that did not happen. … This is a really difficult decision for so many people, not just people who themselves have lost their jobs, but for every person who cares about equality and justice.”

Aviv said it was too early to say whether they would appeal Thursday’s ruling. The court challenges to the law continue to move forward.

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