A thinly veiled threat to freedom in France

Peter Berkowitz takes a thoughtful look at the matter of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s announced intention to enact a ban on the full Muslim veil. Peter points out that this is “a draconian measure for a free society.”
In my view, the only way the State can justify forcing women to dress in a way that violates their religious beliefs is by showing that the ban is necessary to promote public safety. However, I’m not aware of facts that would support this justification in France.
According to Peter, Sarkozy is offering a different justification. He claims that the ban is justified because the full veil runs counter to women’s dignity. But a politician’s view of women’s dignity — however consistent with modern feminist principles — should not be considered a permissible basis for preventing women from abiding by their religious beliefs. When the State begins decding which religious practices are acceptable to modern sensibilities, freedom of religion is in grave danger.
In France, as Peter reminds us, the doctrine of laïcité–which is inscribed in Article 1 of the French Constitution and proclaims France a secular republic–separates church and state differently than in America. But if that doctrine is interpreted to allow the government to override religious beliefs and practices on idelogoical grounds, such as feminist views of what promotes female dignity, then France cannot be considered a truly free society.

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