MONTREAL — A Muslim lawyer who wears a head scarf has put aside her aspiration to become a public prosecutor.

A Sikh teacher with a turban moved about 2,800 miles from Quebec to Vancouver, calling herself a “refugee in her own country.”

And an Orthodox Jewish teacher who wears a head kerchief is worried that she could be blocked from a promotion.

Since the Quebec government in June banned schoolteachers, police officers, prosecutors and other public sector employees from wearing religious symbols while at work, people like these three women have been grappling with the consequences.

The Coalition Inclusion Québec — a group that includes Roman Catholics, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims — is challenging the law in court, along with three teachers, including two Muslims and a Roman Catholic.

Perri Ravon, a lawyer who has worked on two of the lawsuits against the ban, said that at least for now, “the law is disproportionately affecting Muslim women because the hijab is an outwardly visible religious symbol.” She noted that a Catholic cross was less conspicuous since it could be concealed in a blouse or a shirt while at work.

Nonetheless, the Catholic teacher named in one of the suits, Andréa Lauzon, who wears a visible cross and medallion of the Virgin Mary, said in court papers that her faith and identity were inextricably bound, and that her constitutional right to freedom of religion was being breached.

The ban has its roots in Quebec’s historic evolution into an abidingly secular society with a visceral distrust of religion, stemming from the so-called Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, when Quebecers revolted against dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jean Duhaime, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Montreal, said that even before the recent law, the wearing of crosses in the public sector was stigmatized and discouraged in Quebec society.

He said Catholic opponents to the ban were in solidarity with other religious groups, adding that many proponents of the law saw Muslims wearing head scarves as “the phantom of religion reappearing in Quebec while viewing the hijab as an instrument of patriarchal domination.”

Here are four women whose lives and careers have been affected by the ban.

“They said, ‘We’re so happy to see someone like you in a courthouse’ even after I reminded them that I was prosecuting them.”

Amrit Kaur recalled that her father, a Pink Floyd-loving aeronautical engineer, had suffered taunts of “Paki, go home!” while growing up in England and had settled in Montreal because of its tolerance.

Now, she is so homesick for Quebec that she set her computer, car and iPhone language settings to French.

She said the suggestion by supporters of the bill that her turban would make her indoctrinate children was misguided. “It is the state that is imposing secularism as a religion on me,” she said.

Carolyn Gehr, 37

Parents at the high school where Carolyn Gehr teaches laud her as a role model for young women. She presides over chemistry and geology laboratory sessions and advises a feminist student group on issues like abortion and date rape.

But Ms. Gehr, an Orthodox Jew with 14 years of experience at her school, fears she could be blocked if she wanted to be promoted to vice principal. Officials at the school board said the law might apply to her head kerchief.

“The idea that I should be punished because of what is on my head is offensive,” said Ms. Gehr, who said she wore the head covering to symbolize her marital commitment under Jewish law.

Ms. Gehr said the law forced teachers to explain to religious children that their career choices could be limited.

“How is a teacher supposed to tell a student to curtail their dreams?” she asked.

Ms. Gehr said the religious symbol ban was based on a “false premise.”

“The Quebec government doesn’t seem to understand that the rules of religion are not something you can just leave at the door.”

Sumayya Patel, 24

After the ban passed, Sumayya Patel asked herself whether she could remove her head scarf.

She couldn’t.

“There are times when I want to take it off and let my hair down like other girls,” she said.“But I have stuck with it since I am 13 years old, and, after all that effort and sacrifice, it has become a part of me.”

Ms. Patel said that just a few months after she graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a degree in education, and had been offered a job as a substitute teacher, her life was upended when the school board told her that to continue to work, she would need to remove her hijab.

Eventually, the board let her keep her job because she was hired before the law came into force. However, her future is uncertain.

Ms. Patel said the law promoted hatred.

Some feminists in Quebec support the ban, arguing that keeping religion out of public life can help further women’s rights.

But Ms. Patel said those who wanted to restrict her from wearing her hijab were being sexist. Her Gujarat-born parents had always encouraged her to have a career.

“Feminism is having the choice to do what you want to do,” she said.

Source link