“Muslims Worry about Broader France Headscarf Ban”


Crescent Moon with Eiffel Tower


The Constitution of the United States decrees that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  This has commonly been taken to mean, as Thomas Jefferson expressed it in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, that there exists a “wall of separation between church and state” in the American legal and political system.


Some have taken it to signify that the American polity is secular.  But — what with presidential proclamations of Thanksgiving, and Senate and military chaplains, and prayers at presidential inaugurations, and oaths sworn on the Bible — this is plainly an oversimplification, to put it mildly.  The prohibition of a federally established religion is very different from, say, the secularism or laïcité of modern France.


Federal judicial rulings on church-and-state issues have been all over the map, sometimes, and occasionally rather controversial, but, broadly speaking, Americans have worked out a reasonably good relationship between religious and governmental institutions.  France, on the other hand, is heading for trouble, in my opinion, with its increasingly tough restrictions on Muslim women’s dress:




“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” says the First Amendment to the Constitution, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  And we ought to be very grateful for this.



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  • Lucy Mcgee

    The countries with the highest government restrictions on religion are found in the Middle East and Asia. Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and Iran, for example, all have high or very high Government restrictions on religion as well as high for very high social hostilities, according to a Pew Forum report.

    One could assume that there are progressive Muslim women in France who quite happy not to wear a headscarf and who will then be in the competition for those valued government jobs. Same goes for anyone else who is more interested in obtaining a government job than showing off their religious symbols at work.

    • danpeterson

      Plainly, many Islamic countries are relatively unfree, and certainly so with regard to religion. That’s no argument, though, for decreasing religious freedom, or freedom generally, in the West.

      And, yes, there will be some “progressive” Muslim women who will welcome French government intrusion into the way they dress. But many others will not.

      And, further yes, if you exclude members of one group — say, blacks, or Jews, or the irreligious — from the workforce, there will be others happy to take the jobs from which they’ve been barred.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Sorry about my writing issues this fine morning.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I’m sure you would agree that it is much easier to remove a head scarf, kappel, turban, cross, beard or even nose ring, lip ring, etc., if your prospective governmental, state, religious, university or general employer mandates it, rather than changing skin color, religion or basic belief system to get that dream job.

    The French government doesn’t care what skin color or religion you are, just that you don’t come to work wearing a head scarf, cross, skull cap or turban. Seems pretty clear and straightforward. You can probably think of dress prohibitions enforced at your university. Majority groups in power, whether religious or secular, private or public have preferences.

    So again, those that can bend, will find work. Those who demand that the majority bend to accommodate their particular dress habits, will likely not find the jobs they desire. It’s all about free markets, right?

    • danpeterson

      This is emphatically NOT about “free markets.” It’s expressly about state coercion.

      And, yes, Jews can remove their skullcaps, and Sikhs are physically capable of removing their turbans and beards. But what significant public interest is served by compelling them to do so or, otherwise, to lose their capacity to earn a livelihood. These things are required by their religious faith. How do skullcaps or turbans harm anybody?

      Why does the government of France seek to force people to choose between their faith and being able to put food on their tables? Why would anybody support such a tyrannical imposition?

      For many Muslim women, the hijab isn’t a surrender to male oppression but a statement of their faith and a requirement of modesty. Would you be willing to sign off on a government edict requiring women to wear bikinis if they wish to work in government offices? Would you support extending such a decree to the private sector? Would you laugh at women who declined to comply, saying that, if they want to work, they ought to obey the rules, and pointing out that, for every women who’s unwilling to come to work dressed immodestly, there will be plenty who’re happy to comply?

  • JamesJ

    (On a lighter note…)

    Love the “Don’t Panic! I’m Muslim” t-shirt.

    Who knows? If Mormondom had taken up a similar slogan during the campaign, maybe the Presidential election would have had an alternate ending. Stranger things do happen…