I’ve been somewhat torn over the French (both France and Quebec) laws that are being moved in to ban Niqabs and Burqas in public settings.
On the one hand I think it’s a symbol of a repressive society and that no one should have to wear such clothing. But on the other hand, I support a free society where no one has the right to tell you what you can’t wear.
The Humanist Association of Ottawa comes down on the side that as an issue of secularism – “separation of church and state made clear and simple” – the Niqab ought to be banned from being worn on government property.
Now I have to part ways with the HAO author Ricky here, as a secular issue you can argue that no religious symbols ought to be promoted by the government, it is wrong to argue that (1) no religious symbols can be displayed, and (2) that private citizens who are at government buildings ought to be suppressed from displaying their symbols. And here’s why
- My argument is that a secular state should not promote any one religion. This is best phrased in the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While Canadian law is not directly equivalent, I believe most Canadian legal scholars would agree that we have, for all intents and purposes, a secular state. To argue that the government cannot display religious symbols would be to suggest that state sponsored museums, art galleries or zoos can’t deal with religion in any form. Imagine a museum exhibit on the middle ages that was prevented from displaying a cross – it’s absurd.
- As a private citizen in a free country, I ought to be allowed to wear a cross, star-and-crescent, Star of David, or a scarlet A into a government building and still receive services.
So in the end, I have to side with the Muslim women. Many have chosen (whether coerced or not is another discussion) to wear a veil in public, despite public ridicule and discrimination, and no laws ought to control that clothing. As for government employees, I use similar reasoning goes to Christians pharmacists who want the right to refuse prescribing contraceptives in that you leave your faith at home or find a line of work that fits your worldview. Pacifists don’t sign up for the army and complain they have to carry guns.
I’ll add one note about the Sikh Kirpan ceremonial daggers – if we are going to exempt one segment of the population the right to carry weapons in public, we have no reason not to let everyone. My personal preference is for everyone to leave their knives at home, regardless of their value to you. Similar logic applies to most religious accommodations to our laws – our laws either apply to everyone equally or they are useful.
It seems to me that most of the arguments for selectively banning Muslim garments stem purely from the newest forms of racism and xenophobia.