We have previously discussed the denial of religious expression in France for Islamic women who wish to wear abaya, Islamic swimsuits, or burkas. Many of us have lamented about how France, the cradle of so many individual rights in history, has become so inimical to those rights. France has adopted the opposite position to these rights. It has relentlessly attacked free speech (including the criticism of religious beliefs) while denying the expression of religious beliefs. The latest example is the ban announced this weekend on Muslim women wearing the Islamic abaya to school as violations of France’s strict secular laws in education.
Education Minister Gabriel Attal declared “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them. I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools.”
It is, in my view, an outrageous denial of the religious freedom of these women and girls. They must choose between an education and their faith. To adopt a Millian Harm Principle approach, how does the wearing of an abaya harm others beyond irritating those who reject their beliefs?
We previously discussed France’s ban on the wearing of full face veils in public. The same intolerance could be used to ban crosses around necks or yarmulkes on heads as conveying religious faith.
There are five million Muslims living in France who want to be able to move around in public and go to school without being forced to discard their religious beliefs. How is banning religious garb and symbols in France any different from requiring them in countries like Iran or Afghanistan? Both sets of laws regulate and criminalize the expression of religious faith and values.