Solange Lefebvre’s Comments

Like the other two panelists, Solange Lefebvre complimented my research design. She noted that Quebec has been a real laboratory of secularism, even more so than my other cases. She thinks my book provides concrete material to reflect on religion in public life, as debates on the topic often lack concrete case studies of what occurs when the state interacts with religious institutions. She was particularly intrigued by my conclusion that the church will only matter for the long-term wellbeing of Haitians in Miami, and that Haitians in Miami enjoy greataer wellbeing than in Montreal or Paris. In expanding upon this point, I commented that for Haitians in Miami, their religiosity is not something they have to hide in their pocket when they step into the public arena. Being religious in the U.S. is a kind of currency, something that allows you to enter into society, whereas in France and Canada being religious is a barrier to integrate. So immigrants who are religious, like Haitians, perceive greater inclusion in the U.S. than in Canada or France. This greater sense of inclusion then translates into more efforts for socio-economic mobility. Lefebvre questioned my interpretation of church-state relations in Quebec as one of conflict. She commented that the Quebec state is very interested in equality of all religions. I responded that too often I found that a discourse of equality led to a practice of exclusion of religious groups from public debates and public functions. Lefebvre also raised some very important points that I do not address in the book. If the state is to give some support to faith-based social services, by what criteria should this be done? With greater religious diversity, she commented that it becomes harder and harder for the state to evaluate all new religious groups entering society. Although I do not have a specific answer to her question for Quebec, in general, the principle of religious freedom should be used to guide the state’s interaction with religious organizations. The principle of religious freedom means that the state has the responsibility to ensure that religious groups can function in society, whereas too often a principle of state neutrality towards religion means excluding or suppressing public religious expressions and public functions of religious institutions, such as in social services and education. When speaking to Europeans and Canadians, I also want to re-iterate that the American state does not fund any kind of proselytization or evangelization, but for many decades, the state has cooperated with and funded faith-based social service agencies, such as Catholic Charities or Lutheran Brotherhood.

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