MONTREAL - The Quebec minister responsible for the government's proposed charter of values will meet privately with representatives of the Muslim community next week as the backlash against the Parti Quebecois plan continues to grow.
That news emerged as a coalition of Muslim groups held a news conference on Wednesday to speak out against the PQ government's proposals, which would ban the wearing of prominent religious symbols by public employees.
The group known as Quebec Muslims for Rights and Freedoms claims to represent 50 religious and secular Muslim groups.
A declaration by the coalition says government employees should be allowed to adhere to their political or religious beliefs, and that wearing religious symbols does not contradict or affect the neutrality of the state.
It says members are against any ban on religious symbols that would restrict individuals' freedom of beliefs and limit their employment opportunities.
The coalition also supports the concept of inclusive secularism which, it adds, has been practised for decades in Quebec.
"We believe inclusive secularism is to not differentiate among citizens based on their religious beliefs or cultural background," spokesman Samer Majzoub told reporters. "We believe that the state itself has to be secular. In other words, policies should not be created based on religious beliefs or any other beliefs.
"So, in an open secularism, the state includes all citizens and does not discriminate based on any background that they have. We strongly believe that the moment we speak about enclosed secularism, the victims of such a policy would be women."
A coalition member will be among eight Muslim groups meeting with minister Bernard Drainville next week. A spokesman for the minister says two Muslim groups already met privately with him in August before Drainville publicly released his charter of values plan.
The minister also met with representatives of the Jewish community at the time. They went public with their opposition to the proposals after details of the plan were leaked to the media.
Meanwhile, Drainville has announced Quebecers will have until the end of this month to leave comments — in French or English — on a website set up to gather reaction.
The PQ minister said in a statement that in only two weeks, more than 130,000 Quebecers have already visited the site and more than 16,000 have left comments, although they are not available to the general public to read.
Another demonstration is planned against the charter on Sunday. It's being organized by a non-partisan group of young professionals.