Sept 10 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Quebec will not allow public servants to wear Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps or other obvious religious symbols under a new charter unveiled on Tuesday that is designed to cement a secular society.
The pro-independence government of the predominantly French-speaking province says its Charter of Quebec Values will help create a distinct identity for its 8 million people.
Opponents say it infringes on civil liberties in a part of Canada that has already seen years of tension over accommodation for religious minorities, particularly those from immigrant communities.
Religious groups and many political leaders oppose the charter, which will face legal challenges at the Supreme Court of Canada, assuming the provincial legislature approves it.
Quebec’s governing Parti Quebecois (PQ) is trailing in the polls and, with only a minority of seats in the legislature, needs support from other parties to pass bills, casting doubt on whether the charter will survive in its current form.
The ban on prominent crucifixes, hijabs, niqabs, burqas, turbans and the Jewish yarmulkes would apply to groups such as teachers, police officers, civil servants, hospital staff, judges and prison workers.
Official documents give the nod to discreet religious symbols, such as a small crucifix or a ring with the Star of David, but not to veils, large crucifixes or turbans.
On paper at least, the charter is more sweeping than a 2004 French law banning religious symbols in schools. Protests erupted in 2011 after France banned full face Islamic veils in public, alienating many of its 5 million Muslims.
Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister of democratic institutions, said that if the state is neutral, then those who work for it must be neutral too.
“That’s why the government of Quebec is proposing to ban public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols during work hours,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“We’re talking about very obvious symbols … which send a clear message: ‘I am a believer and this is my religion.’”