Two groups challenging Quebec law on religious neutrality

Two groups have filed a legal challenge to Quebec's Bill 62, saying the face-veil law ``gravely infringes'' the religious and equality rights of certain Muslim women in the province.

The recently adopted law prohibits students from covering their face in class.

It also forces people whose fare requires a card with photo ID to uncover their face before riding public transit, although they can put the veil back on once they've been identified.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Marie-Michelle Lacoste, a Quebec woman who converted to Islam in 2003, filed the challenge in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday.

``The Act gravely infringes the religious and equality rights of certain Muslim women in Quebec,'' their court document states.

The challenge takes direct aim at the section of the law that forces public sector employees and private citizens to have their face uncovered when giving or receiving public services.

``This requirement directly infringes the freedom of religion of individuals, such as Muslim women, who cover their faces as a religious practice,'' it said.

``The Act thus precludes certain Muslim women, including affiants in these proceedings, from receiving various public services unless they act contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.''

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee has said the face-veil ban was instituted in order to ensure proper communication, identification and security during the exchange of public services.

The law has been panned across the country by federal and provincial politicians, who see it as targeting a small minority of Muslim women - essentially the only citizens who regularly wear face veils in public.

Vallee has said the legislation doesn't target any religious group and says most Quebecers agree with the principle behind the bill.

When asked recently whether her government had obtained legal opinions and is on stable footing for an eventual court challenge, Vallee simply responded: ``Yes.''