The Difficulty of Talking About
Faith in the Public Space
A colloquium on the theme of the relationship between faith and public space had difficulty finding a room because of its religious subject.
The Faith and Public Space Forum held its first edition on October 12 at the Château Royal in Laval. This reception hall was not the first on the list of event organizers, it was rather a series of refusals that made them consider the location.
"Being turned down only increased our desire to hold the event," explains Oscar Hernandez, director of operations for the Association of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Quebec (AEBEQ) and head of the conference. He says some of the failed space bookings had shady elements. For example, a possible location had signed up with him for a date reservation, only to finally reject the rental after getting more details on the forum. The reason given was that of a scheduling conflict.
The search for a room was further complicated by the decision not to hold the discussion in a place of worship. Since people of different faiths and expressions were gathered, the organizers wanted to maintain religious neutrality about the location. Mr. Hernandez also mentions the impossibility of occupying a university room.
According to the forum's organizing team, this difficulty in finding a room was probably accentuated in reaction to the controversies that affected the Québec City Convention Centre over issues of belief.
As a reminder, last June, the Minister of Tourism, Caroline Proulx, terminated a lease agreement at the convention centre with the Baptist group Harvest Ministries International. In September, it was the Conservative Party of Canada convention that created controversy at the Centre because of the construction of prayer rooms in the Centre.
Religious people are "second-class citizens, we can't even rent public space, it's become systemic," says Louis Bourque, executive director of the AEBEQ. He adds that non-religious people are the only ones who benefit from secularism,
since he feels that it is anti-religion rather than true neutrality.
A successful debut all the same
Despite the problems encountered, the organization considers the event to have been a success. About 65 people were on hand to attend the discussions, which is below Hernandez's expectations. According to him, the forum remains "a success for a first, which testifies to a success, yes it could be the number, but in our case it is the variety of people we were able to gather at the same table".
Indeed, representatives of several groups of the three Abrahamic religions were present and were able to exchange. This ecumenical aspect is the result of the efforts of Jean-Christophe Jasmin, director of public affairs at the Union of Francophone Baptist Churches of Canada.
The original plan was to bring together only Baptists and Evangelicals, but Jasmin felt it would be of little use to "have a discussion with people who all share the same vision." So he proposed to invite Catholic representatives to the table as well, something he thinks would never have been accepted in his community 15 years ago.
Finally, in addition to the Catholics, the other members of the Quebec Interreligious Roundtable, set up during the pandemic, were invited. Now that a first has been held, the planning committee hopes to make it a recurring event to encourage discussion among religious groups.