The right to bear religious symbols


Attire, accessory, and attitude don’t change your religion

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

How does one practice their religion? Do they practice in their house, church, temple, or cathedral—or could they do it while commuting to work? Surely they don’t practice at work, right? Of course I’m talking about Quebec’s charter of values and how, if it passes, civil servants will no longer be allowed to wear religious articles of clothing including turbans, kippas, and overt crucifixes.

Religion has played a large role in my life, and it’s not my intention to argue against it. I’m not against religion. In fact, I wish I had faith. Sadly, although I was brought up as a Buddhist, I cannot honestly call myself one.

What I do want to express is a social commonality. That doesn’t mean tolerance or intolerance, or being anti- or pro- anything; it simply means a culture we can all agree upon.

For example, my father is a smoker. When the regulation passed to have smoking banned in public areas, he became a monster and he’s not—he’s just a dude trying to relax. People who wear religious articles aren’t monsters either, they’re simply expressing their faith and practicing a tradition that they’ve known since they were young. It upsets some, but so does a bit of cigarette smoke.

“Suck it up,” some smokers said initially—the same thing those advocating religious symbols in public sectors are saying now. “It’s not harming anybody.”

Harm is not the point. Commonality is the point; a mutual understanding is the point. If you entered an Asian person’s home, you would graciously take off your shoes. That’s a custom and an understanding. Your shoes are clean and it doesn’t hurt anyone for you to keep them on, yet you do it out of respect.

Canada has an ambiguous culture. It’s more of a mosaic than a mixing pot, and different communities have different conventions. That’s great, that should be cherished, and people should be delighted that we have such diverse communities.

But we need commonality as well to help establish a general culture as our cities, provinces, and country continues to grow. The mindset of Quebec isn’t to alienate. Instead, they’re trying to develop a central place to bring everyone together, where everyone feels welcome, and where no animosity is displayed. This is a good thing. And this is the first step towards having a province that really understands itself. It might feel ruthless, but in generations to come, you’ll see that it’ll bring them closer together.

I worked at Starbucks for over a year and I had to wear a green apron. I wasn’t thrilled, because green isn’t my colour. But I was under Starbucks’ roof, I was being paid Starbucks’ money, and the Starbucks customers recognized the standards—that was how they knew I worked there. It didn’t make me who I was, it didn’t change my beliefs that capitalism is just another form of slavery, but I accepted it because that was the corporate culture.

We might think that commonality is harmful; that it will cause us to lose our heritage and roots, but I believe it’ll help us to understand our history better. Why do we do certain things “just because”? Commonality allows us to question our traditions, habits, ethics, and values and ask the ultimate question: are we doing the right thing? Am I actually less of a person—less myself—if I go without certain things? Does it benefit the hive and not just the honeybee?

All through life, I have mistaken my wants with my needs. I get my priorities mixed up, and I feel many others have as well in regards to this religious symbols debate. Your ideals don’t have to change, your personality doesn’t have to change, and if it helps the general population approach civil servants with ease, I don’t see why they shouldn’t appeal to them. After all, have a little faith.

One thought on “The right to bear religious symbols

  1. Pingback: Kirche heute, 2. Januar 2014 | Christliche Leidkultur

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