1) I’ve never devoted my philosophical attention to questions of secularism or multiculturalism, and
2) I don’t know very much about the Charter, its implications, the background. and the best arguments on both sides.
Out of curiosity, however, I checked in at a philosophical blog this evening and have read through some comment threads on the subject. My philosophical colleagues seem to be overwhelmingly opposed to the Charter. The main line of argument I saw (perhaps because it was used by the person who made the posts in question) seemed to go as follows: while a crucifix is clearly a religious symbol, many of the other items that government workers would be prohibited from wearing under the Charter (turbans for Sikhs, kippot for Jews, headscarves for Muslim women, etc.) are not so much religious as cultural. In fact, said the poster, the Sikh religious prohibition is against men cutting their hair rather than going without a turban. So if the Charter were to be consistent with its stated aims, it should prohibit Sikh men from wearing their hair long and allow the turbans. So (the argument continued), the Charter is ill-conceived. Moreover, it couldn’t be adequately improved (since in many cases the fine line between cultural and religious things is practically impossible to draw, etc.).
Again, I know very little about the Charter. But I have to admit that, based on what little I knew, I kind of thought it was a good idea! It was interesting to see how strongly opposed many philosophers were to it. I can see the point about it being difficult to differentiate between religious and merely cultural clothing and accessories (though the writer seems completely incorrect regarding Jewish kippot: having grown up Jewish, I can tell you that a kippa (skullcap) has a clear religious significance), and that cultural minorities’ clothing might easily trigger the reflexes of those enforcing the Charter much more than similarly cultural ‘western’ clothing might among the cultural majority. But still, I have some qualms.
For one thing, I recall a number of times when Sikhs and Orthodox Jews insisted that they should be permitted to wear their distinctive headwear into legion halls and as part of their RCMP uniforms despite the legion and RCMP regulations against such things. The reason given, as I recall, was that these are items of religious significance to those people and that their freedom of religion is thereby in jeopardy. Well, _if_ that’s the case then, it follows that these _are_ religious symbols and the above reasoning fails.
Here’s another, more fundamental difficulty for this particular anti-Charter line. Suppose that I have a couple of dreams in which a deity, who calls himself Hrashk-ulh, tells me that I need to wear my underwear outside of my pants, keep a lemon between my teeth whenever I’m not speaking, and walk around with a plastic ashtray strapped to my head on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and a newspaper hat on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Suppose I convince myself that these dreams are genuine messages from God. Does that entail that I should be permitted to do those things, and that an employer who told me to wear my underwear inside my pants or find a new job is unfairly infringing on my right to religion? It doesn’t seem to: I think (though maybe I’m wrong) that most of us would have no problem with an employer — government or private — having a universal and exceptionless dress code that precludes doing that. But then, what’s the morally significant difference between this and any other(?) religion? Is it that Orthodox Judaism (say) is much older and accepted by more people? But that doesn’t seem morally significant. Why should we reward people whose religious beliefs happen to conform to others’? And surely, there was at some point the first Jew who got the message from God to start wearing something on his head. Why is his message from God any less crazy than the Hrashk-ulh one?
Again, I really know more or less nothing about the issue. These are just some things I, personally, wonder about.