Tuesday, July 01, 2014

There Is No Religion In France

On the heels of the decision by the US Supreme Court in regard to religious liberty comes a ruling from the EU Court of Human Rights, and it, too, deals with religion.

American culture is so pervasive that non-Americans can easily forget that they have no guarantee to be free to worship as they see fit. Because in some countries in Europe, you can't.

Especially in France. They really don't believe in religion. You can't fault them, of course. When they rebelled against their king, the Catholic Church was a powerful and wealthy organization that worked hand in glove with the ruling classes, keeping the hoi-polloi suppressed. With so little love of organized religion from the start, is it any wonder that modern France has essentially codified a "no religion" stance?

Muslim women residing in France brought their exceptionally conservative cultural practices with them from Algeria, among many African nations once part of the French empire. As the population of immigrants soared, so too did French discomfort with roaming, shapeless sacks with eyes. If one of them committed a crime there was no identifying her, and who knew what was hidden under that billowing robe? She presents a document but how do you know it's really her if you can't see her face and compare a picture on an ID card?

The all-encompassing burqa presented a problem, but it also represented religion on legs, and so the French wrote a law banning the public wearing of face veils in 2011. Secular is all the rage in France, and secularism is the only permitted religion. Women could not opt to wear a veil if they wanted to, whether it was at their own desire or a demand from a male family member. There could be no public displays of Islam because in France there are no public displays of religion.

One woman sued, insisting that she liked covering from head to toe. It was her right, was it not, to practice her faith in her way? It wasn't a burden. It was not a demand made upon her, thereby infringing on her rights as a French citizen.

The EU court has said no, she doesn't have that right.

France is within its rights as a sovereign nation, and one that is known around the world for its fashion, to ban the wearing of face veils in public. Wear it at home all you like. But in public, off it comes.

Why is that?

Because in the EU, everyone must live together. By dressing in a non-EU manner, the Muslim women are trying to live apart, and that is an issue that overrides a woman's right to cover her face. With her face covered, she retreats from a society in which facial recognition is the norm. The veil serves as a wall to cut off interaction, and that is not what the EU is all about.

Practice your religion in the privacy of your home, but it must stay there behind closed doors. On the streets, you are just another member of the European Union and there is no religion in a bureaucracy.

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