The minority Parti Québécois government says the restrictions are intended to assure Quebeckers the state does not favour one religion over another. "If the state is neutral, those working for the state should be equally neutral in their image," says Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the charter.
"Are you going to have a manager going around with a measuring tape to see if someone's crucifix is ostentatious or not?" asks Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League.
Don Hutchinson, vice-president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, calls it "abhorrent" that a government would try to force people to choose between freedom of religious expression and risk losing their jobs because of what they wear.
"The primary targets may well be Muslim women," he says. "But also caught are the Sikh turban, the distinctive clothing the Hasidim wear, Coptic Christians for whom one of the male rites of passage is having an Egyptian cross tattooed on your wrist, and other Christians who as a sign of their faith have chosen to have tattoos, for example."
"That's why we as followers of Jesus need to be quite articulate that we want justice for all," says Glenn Smith, executive director of Christian Direction, a Montreal-based urban mission that seeks the spiritual and social transformation of communities across Quebec.
"The outer symbols of our faith are not a necessary dimension of faith. You don't have to wear the cross, whereas for people of other faiths, those things become life-defining. Therefore we will want to stand with people who say those things are important."
McGarry says the PQ seems willing to take extreme measures to solve a non-existent problem.
"There's no hardship in being served by somebody who's wearing a headscarf who's doing her work properly," she says. "We already have guidelines that people can't proselytize for religion in the workplace."
Faith-based groups are not the only ones that reject the proposed charter.
"It is such a profound step backwards in how we view pluralism and the upholding of religious freedom," says Micheal Vonn, policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. "We have heard no compelling justification for any such thing."
The charter's many opponents are vowing to make sure it never becomes law—and if it does, to challenge it in court on constitutional grounds. But until the actual legislation is tabled in the Quebec National Assembly, they remain uncertain as to all its implications.
"No one seems to know for sure," says McGarry, for example, whether Catholic schools and hospitals that receive public funding would be exempted from these rules or not.
Smith says perhaps the one good thing to come out of this proposal is how it is drawing people of all faiths together in common cause.
"We haven't gone to an inter-religious or an interfaith consultation on it yet," he says, "but I'm amazed by how many Protestant Christians I know that are now wearing crosses just out of solidarity—me included."