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“Now that there is and can be no longer an exclusive national religion, tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship.”

— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “The Social Contract”

Rousseau, in one sentence, encapsulated 250 years ago what’s at the core of the assault on religious rights going on in Quebec today.

The Geneva-born philosopher, considered one of the fathers of modern democracy, realized that human rights cannot exist in a vacuum. True freedom is not attainable in the natural state, but through society. And tolerance is key to the success of that society.

Tolerance does not, however, mean banning all visual accoutrements of religion from public view.

Quebec’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values, unveiled Tuesday, is nothing more than secular iconoclasm — but with a twist. Pauline Marois’ PQ government seeks to ban veils, turbans and other symbols of faith, but will leave in place historical vestiges of their Christian forefathers.

In other words, there won’t be any crosses ripped from schools in Quebec.

If Premier Marois was looking for a patch of political quicksand, she’s found it. Nothing could be more divisive, and more appealing to the most insular elements of Quebec society.

The main question is, what is this proposed legislation trying to fix? Presumably, it’s attempting to save innocent civilians from the stress of seeing others wearing their religion on their sleeves.

In reality, though, it appeals to the lowest common denominator, xenophobes who see a terrorist behind every veil, a zealot under every turban or yarmulke. It is anti-foreigner bigotry at its worst. And it overshadows a much more real problem.

What’s really at issue is that a certain element within the immigrant population arrive in Canada carrying their baggage of intolerance. It is a small element, but a troublesome one all the same.

Moreover, religious intolerance is not exclusively coming from non-Christian immigrants. There are far too many naturalized Christian warriors trying to shove fundamentalist tenets down our throats.

Such intrusions on societal harmony cannot be endured, whether it comes from Christians, Muslims or Sikhs.

Marois’ charter not only misses the mark, but institutionalizes the exact sort of intolerance and unfairness she’s supposedly trying to target.

Constitutional escape clause or not, there is little likelihood it will see the light of day, given growing opposition to it on both sides of Quebec’s border.

Rousseau also knew something about knee-jerk reactions, and how reason must prevail over emotion.

From “Confessions”: “It is as if my heart and my brain did not belong to the same person. Feelings come quicker than lightning and fill my soul, but they bring me no illumination; they burn me and dazzle me.”

Geographic location: Quebec, Geneva, Canada

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