“Undermining Secularism”: French Court Suspends City’s Approval of “Burkinis” in Public Pools

There is a controversial decision out of a French administrative court this week to suspend a policy allowing for Muslim women to wear “burkinis” in municipal pools in the city of Grenoble. The court ruled that such policies “undermin[ed] secularism.” While a long advocate of the separation of church and state, I have opposed these bans on burkas and burkinis as inimical to religious rights. France has Europe’s largest Muslim population and devout Muslim women can only use the pools with such coverings under Islamic teachings. France also has a long and proud history of supporting women in making their own choices — the very essence of Joan of Arc who followed her own religious dictates to heroic ends. This is a denial of such self-determination and self-expression for French Muslim women.

The ruling is reportedly based on a 2021 “separatism” law passed in President Emmanuel Macron’s first term, which allows the suspension of measures that would “undermine secularism and the neutrality of public services.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin publicly supported his ministry filing an objection against the burkini policy in Grenoble. He announced that “The administrative court considers that the mayor of Grenoble, with his decision allowing burkinis in municipal pools, is seriously undermining secularism.”

Many opposed the proposal by Mayor Eric Piolle and conservative leader Marine Le Pen declared that she wants to introduce a law banning burkinis in municipal pools.

The ban undermines free speech and associational rights as well as the free exercise of religion. Many people find such coverings sexist and offensive. However, this is a long-established matter of religious faith within the Islamic community. I fail to see how this harms others or society as a whole. French society can remain neutral and secular by neither opposing nor endorsing such clothing choices. If France supports the right of women to make their own choices in society, that freedom should include the right to choose to follow a devout religious lifestyle.

Joan of Arc famously declared “I was in my thirteenth year when I heard a voice from God to help me govern my conduct. And the first time I was very much afraid.” While she wore armor rather than a burkini, the same religious imperative dictated her actions and she is now celebrated as martyr for France.

Whatever harm is perceived from burkinis, it pales in comparison to the harm from banning such swimwear in a nation committed to the freedoms of religion, expression, and association.

22 thoughts on ““Undermining Secularism”: French Court Suspends City’s Approval of “Burkinis” in Public Pools”

  1. God made each of us as individual souls with individual talents and individual characteristics. Nevertheless, we are all equally beautiful in God’s eyes. However, we are not God and we are not allowed to cancel ourselves. For instance, we are not allowed to commit suicide or promote euthanasia.

    Part of being a person, who is beautiful in God’s eyes, is sharing yourself. Sharing your face, your smile, your eyes. We are human and have human connection because we share our faces. Through our face, we can tell if a person is happy-sad, anxious-relaxed, optimistic-depressed, scared-calm, etc. Even starting at birth, humans are experts at reading facial expressions. Our face is how we communicate and how we share our humanity.

    When we conceal our face, we become less than human. We become objects, both in how we conduct ourselves (i.e. emotionless stormtroopers) and how others treat us (i.e. as diseased animals, as things to avoid).

    While we can support Freedoms of Religion, we should not support or encourage the freedom to cancel your humanity, the freedom to conceal your face, the freedom to cancel what God made beautiful.

    While it is written that the ban on burkinis and head scarfs is to promote ‘Secularism’, I believe these laws are similar to bans on suicide and euthanasia, and promote the most basic idea of western religion – that God made each of us as beautiful individual souls.

    Put simply, your face is your humanity. Your face is your connection to God. Do not cancel what has been created perfectly.

  2. Why is what a woman chooses to wear, be it a thong bikini, string bikini, shorts & tank top, Birkini, need to be addressed at all? It’s swim wear, for god sakes! Sometimes people unnecessarily complicate things.

  3. This highlights the problem of government defining religion. Is a burka religion? I say no. It could be considered a “badge” telling others what you think. like a bumber sticker, but it is not a religion.
    There are lots of Menonites that use buggy on public roads. Does France ban the ostentatious display of buggy use as Religious dogma?

    If you thought freedom of Religion was sticky. Secularism is a nightmare.

  4. The Texas killer is being burned in Hell. Because I was a dog in a prior life I can remember that life and other prior life as a human. I recall being sent by Saint Peter to Hell to do torture on those sent to Hell. I burned many. Then I went back to Heaven.

  5. Forcing bans of “burkini’s” such as this is more likely to cause anger and offense than it will promote “secularism”. It shows a total disregard of an individuals deeply held religious views. If a women wishes to wear a burkini or not is her right in the US but this case is not the US and is France and the Napoleonic code. Just because they are women does not mean they cannot have deep religious views and feel it is appropriate to dress this way. Some Islamic groups have very liberal interpretations of dress compared to others. Assuming that women are forced to dress a particular way is an error. Having lived in many communities with a wide variety of religious groups and practices, I think France stokes the fires of anger by so blatantly discriminating, and this is the government discriminating. There are religious groups all across the US that have particular forms of religious dress and custom and it seems best, in my view, to leave them alone. Respect often results in respect right back. I enjoy speaking with my Muslim colleagues about their experiences when they make the Haj, and also enjoyed and was exhausted by an Indian wedding with attendees who were Hindu and the married couple were Indian but Catholic. I’m sure this decision in Grenoble is not going to please a lot of people and just screams intolerance. The world has bigger issues to deal with. Swimming pools are not one of them unless you make it an issue.

    1. Secularism is one of the failed, flawed ideologies of socialism/communism that had been necessary to bring all members of a society down to a common, non-specific blob that had no inherent concept of the individual. Until we realize that humans have never been multicultural or secular in their successful societies we will have this problem. Forcing secularism on a society is what has caused the problems we are dealing with today. We have removed all boundaries and a concept of an agreed upon moral code.

      1. “[H]umans have never been . . . secular in their successful societies . . .”

        I gather you’re not a student of history — of, say, ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution — all of which were essential secular. On the other hand, the Dark Ages were essentially religious — and not very successful.

        1. I am, in fact, a degreed historian and you do not understand what secularism has done, even the Roman empire began it’s fall when it left its original Republic and began a campaign of multiculturalism and a secular approach to its culture. The same thing happens in all societies that loosen the constrictions of a unified code of behavior, they begin to fraction and then there is cultural anarchy. Why don’t you read deep into history instead of just taking your cues from leftist talking points – or much worse, perhaps you received a university education within the last 4 decades and have been handily miseducated. I received my degrees prior to 1978.

          1. “. . . even the Roman empire began it’s fall when . . .”

            I guess you feel like ignoring that decrepit period *after* Rome’s collapse — that religion-dominated period, of some 1,000 years, known as the Dark Ages. And I guess you feel like ignoring the pain and suffering caused by all of history’s theocracies.

            Please do explain how religious ideas caused, for example, the scientific and technological revolutions of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution — two historical periods that, beyond all others, created massive improvements in human life on earth.

            “. . . leftist talking points . . .”

            That’s amusing.

            1. Sam, the dark ages weren’t so dark. I prefer to use the name, dark ages, for the years of WW2 and for some years after, when religion was replaced by the left. Do you wish to compare the destruction of a few years, to the destruction over >500 years?

              1. “religion was replaced by the left.”

                You either don’t know, or want to ignore, the fact that there are this-worldly, pro-reason advocates who are capitalists.

                Ditto for your knowledge of history. Long before the Left, e.g., in the Renaissance, religion was being replaced by the *secular* faculty of Reason. By the 18th century, *before* the rise of the Left, there were popular books such as _Reason: The Only Oracle of Man_, by Ethan Allen.

                1. Sam, why are you insulting?

                  I referreding to those who replaced their religion with a new one, the “leftist religion.” That swing to the left in several countries, during and somewhat after WW2, caused in excess of ~200 million deaths over a few decades. I compared that to the excess death and destruction during the dark ages that spanned more than 500 years.

                  You wish to parry by not responding directly. That is OK but that doesn’t change the picture.

              1. “[O]nly the Early Middle Ages might be called ‘dark’.”

                That’s true. Technically, the historical classification of c. 472 AD to c. 1450 AD is the “Dark/High Middle Ages.” That entire religion-dominated period, though, was bleak — especially as compared to the relatively secular existence of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution.

                One of the best books on that Dark period is _A World Lit Only by Fire_, by historian William Manchester.

                What’s gruesomely fascinating is how religionists blithely ignore that Dark period, and engage in the same revisionism and whitewashing that Marxists are guilty of.

          2. Alma Carmen, even I know that the Roman Empire began in 26 BCE
            and can be said to begin to ‘fall’ in the west in 400 CE with the withdrawal of the legions from Britain. So that’s 426 and more years of peace in Gaul and Italy.

            Secular? Throwing Christians to the lions was secular? Just where did you mislearn history?

            1. “Secular? Throwing Christians to the lions was secular? Just where did you mislearn history?”

              Good point.

              In order to smear reason, they ignorantly conjoin “secular” with historical atrocities.

  6. Just like we have a young white male problem France has a radicalized Muslim problem. They are grasping in the dark as much as we are. The question for both is how to address it without completely trampling fundamental rights.

    1. currentsitguy says:
      “Just like we have a young white male problem”

      Yeah those young white men are just shooting up Chicago, New York, LA, Baltimore, be careful near the subway and how about those smash and grabs? Why last summer those boys were rioting, burning and looting once a week. Yeah those young white men, hmmmm what to do, what to do?

      1. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Admitting one isn’t a denial of the other.

        1. Yeah, but you still singled out young white males for a reason, while crime rates amongst young black males has been a perpetual problem for decades.

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