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Montreal Jewish Hospital Won’t Comply with a Ban on Religious Symbols

Montreal's Jewish General Hospital is squarely opposed to a new "Secularism Charter" introduced into the Quebec legislature this month.
Examples of "ostentatious religious symbols" that would be banned for public workers or those receiving public services under Quebec's proposed Secularism Charter

Examples of "ostentatious religious symbols" that would be banned for public workers or those receiving public services under Quebec's proposed Secularism Charter

The Quebec government is considering a law that will ban the display of “conspicuous religious symbols” for public workers and in public spaces.

The bill, popularly referred to as the Secularism Charter, was introduced into the Quebec legislature on Nov. 7. It would prevent teachers, doctors, police officers and other public sector workers from wearing religious symbols, and would also require all those receiving state services to have their faces uncovered.

The measure was described by the minister in charge of the charter, Bernard Drainville, as one that would unite Quebecers, and be a “source of harmony and cohesion.”

The need to remove any suggestions that the government is promoting a particular religion is a motivating factor.

“If the state is neutral, those working for the state should be equally neutral in their image,” said Drainville.  The desire to prevent people in public positions from proselytizing for their religion is another justification for the bill offered by some.

But there are many Quebecers, especially religious minorities, who are opposed to the measure.

One institution which has come out squarely against the Charter is Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.

“This bill is flawed and contrary to Quebec’s spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance,” Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, the hospital’s executive director, said in a statement earlier this month.

“If approved, this offensive legislation would make it extremely difficult for the JGH to function as an exemplary member of Quebec’s public healthcare system.”

“Contrary to statements in the bill, the JGH believes that neutrality in the delivery of healthcare services is not compromised by religious symbols in the clothing of employees,” he added.

The hospital, which is affiliated with McGill University, is located in a diverse neighborhood and has practitioners of many faiths who wear symbols associated with their religions.

The Jewish General Hospital was built in 1934. At least part of the impetus for the hospital was the prejudice Jews faced getting medical treatment and entering the medical profession in Christian institutions.

The strong statement issued by JGH was endorsed by the hospital’s board of directors. It reads, “for nearly 80 years, the JGH has prided itself on the fact that its staff — representing a wide diversity of faiths, with many employees wearing conspicuous items of clothing with religious symbols — has provided superior quality (of care) to Quebecers of all backgrounds.”

The hospital has rejected even applying for an exemption as its administration believes the proposed law is “inherently prejudicial.”

The hospital’s crest is a menorah, and its prior one was the Star of David.  All official hospital goods, including uniforms, lab coats, stationery, contain one or the other symbols.

Public hearings into the proposed legislation are expected to begin in mid-January.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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26 Responses to “Montreal Jewish Hospital Won’t Comply with a Ban on Religious Symbols”

  1. Lynne Marton says:

    YUP!!! That’s here in Montreal!!! (y)

  2. Dan Silagi says:

    Every doctor, nurse, orderly, aide, and administrative personell needs to wear some religious symbol to work all the time — kippah, cross, whatever. Just like when the King of Denmark wore a yellow star after the Nazis overran Denmark in 1940.

  3. the world is going insane

  4. Jorge Bernal says:

    Well some one said to me welcome any one from any religion in Ontario especial Toronto full diversity

  5. Charlie Hall says:

    The ban has only been introduced, not enacted. The PQ does not have a majority in the Quebec National Assembly and the opposition parties all have indicated that they oppose it. This is not a done deal and can be stopped!

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    The ban has only been introduced, not enacted. The PQ does not have a majority in the Quebec National Assembly and the opposition parties all have indicated that they oppose it. This is not a done deal and can be stopped!

  7. And it shouldn’t comply.

  8. Dick Farrel says:

    good for Montreal’s Jewish community.. Bill Shatner was one

  9. Dick Farrel says:

    good for Montreal’s Jewish community.. Bill Shatner was one

  10. Ferdinand Torreggiani says:

    I have absolutely no objection if persons want to wear a religious symbol. I would however object if someone wore something that covers his/her face that you do not know who they are and do not want to be identified like a balaclava, burka or a motorcyclist helmet

  11. Paul Mesirow says:

    The Talmudic principle of the ox that gored has a new champion now. The hospital is correct in saying that religious articles of faith must be displayed. The problem is NOT with the religion. People in the West (America and Canada) have been taught to be afraid of masked people – they are up to no good. The crazies of Islam have frightened people, so when we see someone in traditional Muslim garb (and it is usually a woman), if scares us. When was the last time a woman took down an airliner, or blew up a building? THey are trying to legislate how we feel about people who are different.

  12. Frank Artman says:

    Religion is being swept further under the carpet every day. In the U.S. there is a thing called 'The Separation of Church and State.' Yet, The State continues to interfere with the Church. The Pot is brewing and there will not be a good outcome. Not any time soon.

  13. Bill Bilek says:

    Public opinion polls report that over half the population support this Bill, and that opposition party (Liberals) objections are weakening.

    That is why it is scary.

  14. Bill Bilek says:

    The other problem is that the crucifix (in the Quebec National Assembly, atop Mt. Royal, small ones on necklaces, tie pins, etc.) are considered "kosher" as "cultural" (i.e. not religious) icons.

  15. Ron Kall says:

    Because these women dressed in repressive outfits are a political in your face statement about islam and all people should worry when they begin appearing in free western societies! Besides there are many female suicide bombers so stop being a muslim apologist!

  16. Edward Lobel says:

    Frank Artman, I think you have that backwards, it is the church that is interfering with the state!

  17. Edward Lobel says:

    Frank Artman, I think you have that backwards, it is the church that is interfering with the state!

  18. I agree with the hospital's decision, however I believe that the full faced burka covering everything except the eyes, has no place in a Western society.

  19. I agree with the hospital's decision, however I believe that the full faced burka covering everything except the eyes, has no place in a Western society.

  20. AC Stubbs says:

    Face it, They want stop Christians and Jews from having hospitals

  21. They are okay with crucifixes in their own hospitals and lets face it Christ is no longer on the cross He has risen. I agree it is a form of persecution for those who dont believe in the pope or roman catholicism.

  22. They are okay with crucifixes in their own hospitals and lets face it Christ is no longer on the cross He has risen. I agree it is a form of persecution for those who dont believe in the pope or roman catholicism.

  23. In reply to Marian Stein "Why" because the french population is dwindling and the islamic population is growing, so they fear they will be outnumbered in the future, so what to do make it difficult for the Islamic people so they will move on. I am not so sure whether this is directed so much against the Jews as the Islamic,they are more afraid that the Islamic people are going to force them to speak punjabi, as they forced the English to speak French. rather reaping what one sows.

  24. There is no room in the western society for those who cover their faces with Burka !! When in Rome do as the Roman do! Period ! Get rid of Burka !! It is offensive to the eye !

  25. P R Furtado says:

    Well, may be I’m wrong, but it seems that all religions say to love each other.
    The use of religious symbols Is a way to say “I have religious principles! You may trust on me!”
    So, I agree with hospital’s firm positioning against the ban of religious symbols.
    God bless you all.
    PR

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