Last month, in a speech from the Elysée Palace, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his intention to enact a ban on the full Muslim veil. The decision--which was preceded by an extended public debate but was likely occasioned by recent regional elections in which the Socialist-led opposition delivered a drubbing to Mr. Sarkozy's party--would expand the scope of France's 2004 law that prohibits the wearing of headscarves and other conspicuous religious symbols at state schools.
Mr. Sarkozy's ban on the full veil represents a draconian measure for a free society. Arguably, it is necessary and proper. But it won't prevail without a fight. A few days after Mr. Sarkozy's speech, the Council of State, France's highest administrative body, declared that an outright ban would be hard to enforce, might be unconstitutional, and should be rejected. Meanwhile, a similar ban was unanimously approved by Belgium's home affairs committee last week and will be voted on by the lower house of parliament later this month.
Restrictions on liberty in a free society are always suspect and in need of justification. The best justification is the protection and promotion of freedom.. . .
A ban on the full veil in the United States would be unthinkable. This is in significant part owing to America's relatively small Muslim population, and its history of successfully assimilating generations of immigrants who have come to her shores determined to learn English and succeed on America's terms. But it is also because a ban would represent an unprecedented infringement of religious freedom. In America, the separation of church and state is designed to protect the state from religious interference and to protect religion, which always has a public component, from government interference.
France is different. It is home to approximately six million Muslims. That's more than in any other European state and represents almost 10% of France's population. Significant numbers of these relatively new immigrants are poor, confined to low-income and violence-prone neighborhoods on the outskirts of Paris, inclined to anti-Semitism, sympathetic to political Islam, and alienated from French social and political life.
In addition, 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. For many French, laïcité, roughly translated as national secularism, has acquired a militant meaning, according to which government must confine religion to the private sphere.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
About That "Fascist America" Meme
Peter Berkowitz in the April 5th Wall Street Journal: