3 CSDM teachers have taken off religious symbols to work, school board says

The largest school board in Quebec says three teachers have been directly affected by Quebec’s secularism law, formerly known as Bill 21.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) revealed the teachers took off their religious symbols in order to be able to sign a contract.

“They took off their religious symbol to have a contract with the CSDM, because we have, by law, the obligation with the government to be sure that the law is in place in our school board,” said CSDM president Catherine Harel Bourdon.

The board would not specify what kind of symbols the teachers wore.

The secularism law forbids certain civil servants in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols. Teachers already on the job are exempt under a grandfather clause, provided they stay in the same position.

The school board fell in line when it came to the province’s law in late August, despite saying earlier in the summer it wouldn’t apply the rules until holding further consultations.

The CSDM began quietly including a notice in job postings saying applicants will need to comply with the law, and not wear religious symbols if they are applying for teaching or administrative positions.

In June, the board voted not to apply Bill 21. At the time, the board said it needed more time to consult with parents, teachers and unions on how to do so.

“We said to the government many times, it’s going to be difficult for the vivre ensemble,” Bourdon said. “We are working [on] how to live together and to accept everybody as they are with their religion, but right now we have to work with this law.”

Two civil rights groups are hoping to overturn the religious symbols law in court.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are seeking an appeal after a Quebec Superior Court justice refused their emergency request to temporarily freeze parts of the law.

“Bill 21 is the embodiment of state-sanctioned second class citizenship,” said Mustafa Farooq, from the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“When people are forced to choose between their deepest moral commitments, and doing what they’ve trained their entire lives to do, it’s an attack on our civil liberties.”

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