The Atlantic

What’s Behind Quebec’s Ban on Religious Symbols

The Canadian province has a complicated relationship with its immigrant communities. Last month, it became the first place in North America to institute such a ban.
Source: Christinne Muschi / Reuters

MONTREAL—When Sarah Abou Bakr was in elementary school, an elderly woman mocked her mother’s head scarf and shouted insults at her in a busy mall here. Abou Bakr shouted right back. Her mother, who had moved to Quebec from her native Egypt and didn’t know enough French to defend herself, pulled her away. The bystanders did little to help. “That marks you,” Abou Bakr told me in a recent interview. “You don’t forget it.”

Now Abou Bakr is 21, and that memory is more relevant than ever: Quebec, where she was born and raised, and where she still lives, has become the first state or province in North America to ban Muslim head scarves and other religious symbols, including Jewish kippahs, Sikh turbans, and Christian crosses, among some public servants.

Bill 21, or its official name, “An Act Respecting the a ban on judges, police officers, and prison guards wearing religious symbols; 59 percent back such a restriction on teachers, too. The legislation, which applies only to new hires or those who change jobs within an organization, means workers in positions of authority in public schools, courtrooms, law enforcement agencies and other places can no longer wear such symbols.

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