Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Montreal councillor challenges city hall's secularism; accused of anti-Semitism

Anie Samson
Anie Samson, a Vision Montreal city councillor told the media on Saturday that she was against the traditional adjournment of city council meetings for Jewish Yom Kippur.
The city should not suspend its work for a holiday of one religious community but not others, she said, and added that three of city council’s 65 members are Jewish. 
Rather than imposing a holiday on everyone, those who wish to celebrate their religions should be permitted to abstain from council without penalty, Samson said.
The French government recognizes a host of religious holidays and allows city employees to take those days off without being docked pay, she added.
Seems reasonably secular to me.  Notice how she seems to be including religious and Muslim holidays - in fact all religious holidays - in her proposal.  No preference for anyone, all equal - except for perhaps the poor Atheists who have no religious holidays per se.  But still, I think it's actually a very reasonable step forward.

Of course all hell broke loose.

Opposition Projet Montréal councillor François Limoges said on Monday:
“It worries me when someone uses a sentiment towards the Jewish community to get media coverage.”

“It’s playing on their sense of identity to denounce the fact that council will break for Yom Kippur.”
“It can feed anti-Semitism.”
This basically translates to Anie hates Jews.  Well it seems to me like she went out of her way to try and include all religions into her message.  You know, she's trying to be secular.

Councillor Marvin Rotrand demanded an apology from Samson and confronted her with a letter from a Toronto city councillor talking about how they schedule around all major religious holidays because they believe this mutual respect fosters tolerance and understanding.  

Vision Montréal leader Louise Harel shot back on Samson's behalf:
“Is a public, democratic institution secular or multi-confessional?” she asked. Toronto is taking a multi-confessional approach, she said, while Montreal has a tradition of secularism.
The Montreal tradition of secularism more closely resembles the path France and (by extension of the influence of the French Revolution on some of the United States' Founding Fathers) America.
These two secularisms correspond, more or less, to the forms that emerged out of post-Enlightenment France and England, and they are responses to the distinct challenges religion posed to each society. For France, secularism was a response to Catholic authoritarianism. In England, secularism was part of the liberal tradition that sought to handle a large amount of diversity. (source)

She further reacted with strong words of support for full secularism with:
"[It's] vile to associate wanting to apply the principle of secularism to a public institution with anti-Semitism."
Although we're still far off from full secularism in government in Quebec, it's heartening to at least see the occasional debate such as this one break out.  And it shows how further along Quebec perhaps is on this front compared the US or the rest of Canada.

Source for this post can be found on Global Montreal along with video: Montreal councillor challenges city hall's secularism; accused of anti-Semitism

Even more indepth coverage is available at the Montreal Gazette: Shutdown of city council for Yom Kippur irks opposition - Vision Montreal's Anie Samson says holiday is an unreasonable accommodation

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