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French President Suggests Banning Religious Symbols
December 17, 2003 10:33 AM   Subscribe

French President Suggests Banning Religious Symbols From the Washington Post: "French President Jacques Chirac asked parliament on Wednesday for a law banning Islamic head scarves and other religious insignia in public schools ... 'Secularism is one of the great successes of the Republic,' Chirac said in an address to the nation. 'It is a crucial element of social peace and national cohesion. We cannot let it weaken.' Chirac said he would push for a law to be enacted in time for the school year that begins next autumn. Islamic head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and large crucifixes would fall under the ban.

Man, just when I thought we could start referring to "freedom fries" as "french fries" again.
posted by monkey-mind (74 comments total)

 
Yikes.
posted by agregoli at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2003


I remember in Montreal this Sikh kid tried to take his knife to school. When they said, "No knives", his parents said, "It is a religious symbol!", and then the school basically said, "Fuck off."

As they should.
posted by jon_kill at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2003


Doesn't this conflict with the state's mandate to educate every child? (i'm assuming France has what we have.) An orthodox Jewish kid isn't allowed to take his yamukah off at all, for instance. Are they trying to push these kids out of the public school system?
posted by amberglow at 10:47 AM on December 17, 2003


jon, what, knives are equivalent to scarves are equivalent to yarmulkes are equivalent to crucifixes on a chain?

I don't see it dude. You've got a rule against knives in school, ok, that makes sense to me. Having a rule against a decoration specifically because it's religious, however, is restricting of freedom. Thomas Friendman makes a good case for where the pilots of the 9.11 planes come from. They were all educated in Belgium, and they all felt alienated from European culture, so sought companionship in prayer groups and other Islamic organizations where AQ recruiters could easily make contact.

I can only see moves like this as providing a broader base of educated, prosperous, angry, and humiliated muslims for recruiters to sink their talons into.
posted by kavasa at 10:49 AM on December 17, 2003


Meh, I wasn't drawing any parallels. Just an anecdote to define the extremes.
posted by jon_kill at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2003


Also, here in Quebec, there are an alarming number of public buildings (a high school in my neighborhood, most notably) with crosses on them.

I'd love to see those come down.

I know that isn't the same as this case. I'm just sayin'.
posted by jon_kill at 10:59 AM on December 17, 2003


Are they trying to push these kids out of the public school system?

No, they're trying to separate superstition from education. You're more likely to be able to be educated if you can get past the thought that there's an omnipotent creature that created the universe and everything in it, yet cares if you wear a beanie.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:00 AM on December 17, 2003


Amberglow, seeing as religion is a completely manmade construct (as is the state, and the concept of secularism, I'll admit), why should the state sacrifice a stated goal, such as secularism, to accomodate the superstitious whims of its citizens?

My religion might dictate that I need to flatuate upon arriving in mixed company. That doesn't exactly make it right.

In Madagascar, the religion followed by the majority of indigineous people dictates that you can not defecate in the same spot twice. I imagine these people would have a hard time in France, or any other country.

I'm not sure I exactly agree with myself on this issue, so, if you get your knives out, I might help sharpen them. Anyway, we're here to discuss.
posted by jon_kill at 11:03 AM on December 17, 2003


Mayor Curley: awesome.
posted by jon_kill at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2003


Hmmm, maybe I was a little ambiguous two comments ago: I meant knives out for attacking me.
posted by jon_kill at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2003


"why should the state sacrifice a stated goal, such as secularism, to accomodate the superstitious whims of its citizens?"

Why should the state have secularism as a goal? Does France have secularism as a goal? Wouldn't a better goal be to maximize civil liberties?

Mayor Curley, there are two kinds of people that claim infallibility: Popes and agressively nerdy atheists.
posted by kavasa at 11:07 AM on December 17, 2003


'My religion might dictate that I need to flatuate upon arriving in mixed company. That doesn't exactly make it right.'
I do not like your farting, JK, but I will defend to the death your right to do it.
posted by RokkitNite at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2003


I'd like to take this opportunity to disassociate my tolerant atheistic beliefs from the rather striking display of intolerance and venom displayed so far in this thread.

More on topic, I'll agree with agregoli. Yikes.
posted by GeekAnimator at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2003


Well, kavasa, those are good questions.

Different societies decide that different things are important to them. Officials are then elected to represent these interests and pass laws that reflect the will of the people (in a democratic society, at least.)

Obviously, this can go wrong. However, in the general case, it seems to work quite well. If France passes a law banning headscarves, it will in effect be saying that secularism is a goal of the state, and the representatives of the people have voted, a majority of them making it law.

I imagine that some cultures do not think that religious freedom is an acceptable civil liberty. France seems to be one of them.

It's not for us to decide the goals of France.

It is for us to debate them.

This is getting good, I hope more people show up.
posted by jon_kill at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2003


why should the state sacrifice a stated goal such as secularism, to accommodate the superstitious whims of its citizens?

Because it's an infringement on personal freedom. A small boy who wears a "beanie" harms no one and should be allowed to do so.

Here's an analogy. We'd be better off in our society if no one drank alcohol. Sure, lots of people enjoy their alcohol responsibly, but many others get drunk and become violent, abusive, and cause accidents, and there's the medical costs of excessive drinking, etc. If the state told you that you were no longer allowed to drink, would you be prepared to obey that law? Would you say, "This is a worthy goal and I am ready to put aside my whims and follow suit?

A society must balance the freedoms accorded to its individuals against its collective good. In this case the individual freedom should prevail since the individuals involved harm no one.
posted by orange swan at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2003


RokkitNight: But, the majority of people would agree that me showing up and farting all the time was just plain fucking irritating, and really gross. Would you still fight to the death to defend it then?

Orange swan: Good points. How did you know about my drinking problem? If they told me I could no longer drink in schools, colleges, or hospitals, then, yes I might stop doing that, though.

Also, when I go home to Halifax, I don't smoke in their bars because the government has told me not to.

Devil's advocate time: "In this case the individual freedom should prevail since the individuals involved harm no one." What about those that feel uncomfortable being surrounded by cult members?
posted by jon_kill at 11:39 AM on December 17, 2003


I personally would love to see most religious wear and ornamentation stripped out of public life, in the schools etc. But I want it gone because people have moved on. If you regulate the wear so it is gone, it makes you no better than those who would require religious devotion and creates an angry underground of worshippers.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 11:41 AM on December 17, 2003


I'm with GeekAnimator. Mayor & Jon, statements like those you make above are partly responsible for the bad rap we atheists often get.
posted by clever sheep at 11:41 AM on December 17, 2003


I don't think the alcohol simile is appropriate. Secularism can be a feature of the state in that the state does not uphold any particular religious perspective. This can be differentiated from the situation wherein citizens are denied the right to meet the needs of their religious commitments, at least where doing so causes no harm. Now the French state may argue that there is harm in any religious representation on schoolchildren, so perhaps the subject of the debate should be whether we agree that this is the case.
posted by biffa at 11:42 AM on December 17, 2003


Your ability to learn is not affected by the things you wear on your head, or around your neck, unless they leach into your brain or skin. Secularism is what the curriculum should be focused on, not what students are wearing, if that's the state's goal. I'm Mr. Separation of Church and State, but not allowing kids to wear items of religious significance (unless they're also weapons) has nothing to do with what is taught, or how it's taught or anything a school system should be concerned with--it reminds me of the public schools that require uniforms on all students, when they should be investing their time and energy in the curriculum or teacher training. Farting would be disruptive, and prevent children from learning--wearing a yamukah or headscarf is not disruptive.
posted by amberglow at 11:43 AM on December 17, 2003


Well, Clever Sheep, there are two kinds of atheists: those who see nothing right with religion and those who see something wrong with religion.
posted by jon_kill at 11:47 AM on December 17, 2003


Well the whole farting thing is like saying "my religion dictates I turn into a talking box of kleenex on the fifth wednesday of every month" - it's not even really possible, so whatever.
posted by kavasa at 11:53 AM on December 17, 2003


I find it hard to see how this is a good thing. I don't see how someone wearing a head scarf or a beanie for any reason (religion, fashion, chemotherapy camouflage) harms anyone else. I can see the ban on knives in schools (not least because many Sikhs wear a pin to symbolise the dagger anyway, so it's clearly acceptable to not carry the dagger as long as you wear the symbolic dagger), but this just seems like state-enforced atheism, which is no better than state-enforced religion in my opinion (and I'm a vaguely agnostic atheist). It's nobody's business if someone wears a turban or a head scarf or a pair of devil horns on their heads, it harms nobody, and it should have no effect on anyone's learning.
posted by biscotti at 11:54 AM on December 17, 2003


And isn't socialization one of the goals of public schools? Being thrust together with all different sorts of people who believe all sorts of things is a valuable learning experience--this law seems to be either driving kids out of the public system or mandating conformity. I wonder if they've removed Christmas holiday or Easter break from the school schedule--if not, then all this "secularism" talk is just bs.
posted by amberglow at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2003


Large crucifixes? So I'm guessing small ones are okay? If they're aiming towards secularism, it should encompass all religions. Does the proposed law include keeping Pere Noel and creches out of the classroom? Will schools be open on Christmas? I don't agree with it, but I agree with it even less if it's focused more on non-Christian religions.

What would happen if a non-Muslim student wore a necklace with a crescent and a star on it? Would she be required to remove it because it could be seen as a symbol of Islam?
posted by Ruki at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2003


A society must balance the freedoms accorded to its individuals against its collective good. In this case the individual freedom should prevail since the individuals involved harm no one.

I would take orange swan's alcohol analogy further and remind everyone how successful prohibition was (NOT). So I would add that a society must take potential future outcomes into account (spartacus' "angry underground of worshippers," for example).

... the French state may argue that there is harm in any religious representation on schoolchildren, so perhaps the subject of the debate should be whether we agree that this is the case.

And as a parent, I would argue that I want my kids to interact with all kinds of people, all the time. Being around different types of kids, who may or may not wear religious symbols, gives all of them the opportunity to learn about different cultures.
posted by whatnot at 11:56 AM on December 17, 2003


" Well the whole farting thing is like saying "my religion dictates I turn into a talking box of kleenex on the fifth wednesday of every month" - it's not even really possible, so whatever."

Dude, did you not see my comment about Madagascar? You wanna talk about possible?
posted by jon_kill at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2003


and amberglow beats me to the punch again! Christmas Break is now called "winter break," btw. One down, eh?
posted by whatnot at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2003


What's it called in France tho, whatnot? : >
I wish we had some French mefites to give us the scoop. It seems that if even small crucifixes are allowed, there are ulterior motives at work.
posted by amberglow at 12:05 PM on December 17, 2003


No, they're trying to separate superstition from education.
Notice "large" crusifixes, what is Frances national religion?

For those that say this will help the kids have a better attention. Dated a school teacher in France, so when I saw a 3rd grader take his toy to shcool, I asked the shcool's stance on the matter. This being a major "no no" at all the schools I attended. She said: how can you take the happiness away from a child, what wrong taking a toy to school. Add saw men holding their child's hand while walking up to the school then handing them off to their teachers.

Thought France was recently embracing Islam. By having public places they could meet socially while staying true to their Islamic faiths, like swimming pools; men & woman only.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:11 PM on December 17, 2003


excuse the errors
posted by thomcatspike at 12:15 PM on December 17, 2003


Ruki, thomcat, from what I understand, small symbols of any religion are allowed. But large symbols are not.

However 99% of those 'large symbols' are either Jewish or Muslim. Not many people wear large crucifixes in France (or anywhere else unless they are a priest on Sunday) and many, many French schoolgirls and boys wear small ones. So this law is basically specifically targetting non-Christian groups because the prohibition on 'large' symbols doesn't apply to 99% of Christians. France has the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in West Europe, this is probably most accurately seen as an effort to bring the communities more under French 'control'.

My personal opinion is that this causes many more problems than it solves. But this is France, after all, and the French are nothing if not supreme creators of solutions which cause more problems :)
posted by cell divide at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2003


For many French, the Islamic head scarf symbolizes Muslim militancy
Raise hand if you feel the same. [looks around room, no hands]
This can only be true for a very small number...unless ''militancy" is being translated differently here.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:27 PM on December 17, 2003


Chirac said he also wanted to open the way for businesses to impose the same ban for reasons of safety or customer relations.

...other than Islamic customers, I suppose.

As with the Sikh example above, unless there's something wrong (for lack of a better term) with a particular item I just can't justify this sort of law. The full face covering (burkha?) I can see causing problems, but the scarf bit (hejab?) would seem fine. How does someone wearing a yarmulke or a cross or a bindi infringe upon me? How does it pose a danger to the wearer?

Secularism begins with tolerance and acceptance. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité indeed.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:45 PM on December 17, 2003


there are two kinds of people that claim infallibility: Popes and aggressively nerdy atheists.
I'd add aggressively nerdy believers-in-almost-any-religion-or-philosophy, television evangelists (pre-indictment), diet promoters and religious leaders who order suicide bombings.

Of course, being mostly agnostic myself, I must add: I could be wrong.

On the specific issue of "religious wear in school", two words: School Uniforms.
digression: I saw a promo for tonight's Oprah special about her crusade for education for African AIDS orphans, and she mentioned that among her first contributions were school uniforms for kids who couldn't afford them but were not allowed to go to school with them... Hmmm...
posted by wendell at 12:56 PM on December 17, 2003


"Secularism is one of the great successes of the Republic," Chirac said in an address to the nation. "It is a crucial element of social peace and national cohesion. We cannot let it weaken."

Well, fuck you, Chirac. "Secularism" is no excuse for flagrant discrimination. Will governments please back the fuck out of everybody's personal business? Thanks, that'd be much appreciated.
posted by callmejay at 1:02 PM on December 17, 2003


(As someone who considers himself something of a secularist, I think I'm getting an idea of what liberal Christians must feel about the likes of Pat Robertson.)
posted by callmejay at 1:04 PM on December 17, 2003


Mayor Curley, there are two kinds of people that claim infallibility: Popes and agressively nerdy atheists.

Bit of a stretch there to accuse me of claiming infallibility. Let me clarify anyway:

If there were an all-powerful being, I don't think that he would be childish enough to engage in fraternity-style initiation stunts.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:36 PM on December 17, 2003


It's the difference between "freedom of religion" and "freedom from religion".

The first is the more free of the two, in my opinion.
posted by 4easypayments at 1:45 PM on December 17, 2003


My exgirlfriend is French, and was a grad student over here. Last summer we went out for drinks with my cousin Yoni, who is an Orthodox Jew. Yoni, of course, was wearing his kepa. Her first comment when we left was "I can't believe he was wearing Jewish headress in public!" She was really astounded. This was a highly educated woman who had both undergraduate and graduate degrees from really prestigious French universities, was attending a prestigious American university, and was well traveled having been all over Europe, North Africa, and much of the US. But she was literally shocked to see such a blatant display of religion iin public.

I found it very interesting, undoubtedly a byproduct of these types of displays. FYI, France has had enforced secularism for years. Christian prayer is most definitely not allowed in schools, crucifix necklaces must be worn under clothes. Clothing cannot have any symbolic religious value (ie no tee-shirts with God or Jesus on them.) Previously, these policies were directed against Christains and Jews, and Muslims were given a pass by being allowed to wear a headscarf.

All that Chirac's new proposal would do is bring the ban on religious symbols so it applies equally to all partys.

I think this is a bad idea for many reasons. I'm a fan of broad civil liberties, and I think trying to control the religious displays of a population will in the end only make that population hold on more strongly to its religious beliefs, and possibly further radicalize those beliefs.

However, for those of you saying that this seems to be some sort of control directed against Mulsims and Jews in particular, I disagree. Its a stupid policy, but I don't see it as religious discrimination in disguise.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2003


For many French, the Islamic head scarf symbolizes Muslim militancy

Raise hand if you feel the same. [looks around room, no hands]


Now raise a hand if you're French.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2003


just curious, does the French state pay for the upkeep at Notre Dame?
posted by pejamo at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2003


As MetaFilters' only (or at least it feels like that) conservative Christian reader I'd like to say I sometimes feel left out that my country isn't enacting these kinda laws. French evangelicals (which is an oxymoron, but for the sake of discussion lets assume they exist) have some great opportunities for civil disobedience with this. I know if Florida enacted a law like this I'd be wearing the biggest cross I could find. Not that I actually want that kind of thing to happen and I think religious freedom is already infringed on too much in the good 'ol USA, however it's better off than France.

I doubt most MeFites agree with me but pretty much every "first world" country in the world is heading in the exact direction that France is going and I imagine that we are less then 100 years away from public religion being banned in most place in the world.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2003


In my experience (with a Sikh partner) France has a large number of vocal bigots who will approach you in public and shout racist abuse at you and spit at you. It has seemed to me for a long time that the French don't like to see evidence that people are different to the established order, e.g. coloured, Sikh, Muslim, ... I see the current move as the logical move for a right wing, somewhat racist politician to pander to his natural supporters.

Given the religious links of circumcision (outside the US), maybe boys should be banned from being circumcised. After all, in the showers after gym class the blatant display of religious symbolism is shocking ;<)

P.S. The United Kingdom is of course a constitutional monarchy with the head of state also the head of the church of england.
posted by daveg at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2003


it's great how France opts to focus on symbols rather than meanings. Headscarf as well as a kipa (yarmulke) as well as a cross are merely symbols. They, in their own right, say nothing of the intention of the person. And it is the intention that the French government wants to fight, the intention to be fanatic and follow violent path at achieving the goals specified by fanatic religious leaders. So instead of forbidding the headscarf (since it is primarily about the Muslims anyway), they should focus on making it obligatory to: study other religions' texts; study your own religion's text from a critical perspective; require open dialogs between parents of the children that wear and don't wear religious symbols; etc. These are much harder than simply prohibiting a symbol, and will cause much more trouble with the fanatics of the different colors, but they are the only way to truly affect how people think, rather than pretending that the problem (fanaticism) does not exist by pushing the people who symbolize it into the corner.
posted by bokononito at 3:27 PM on December 17, 2003


...Christian prayer is most definitely not allowed in schools, crucifix necklaces must be worn under clothes. Clothing cannot have any symbolic religious value (ie no tee-shirts with God or Jesus on them.) Previously, these policies were directed against Christains and Jews, and Muslims were given a pass by being allowed to wear a headscarf...
But when your religion dictates a visible symbol, you should be allowed to wear it...just because Christians are lucky enough to be able to hide their religious symbols (and the bible doesn't require the wearing of a cross, btw, while it's required that heads be covered in other orthodox religious traditions) doesn't mean that they're not being given preferential treatment here. I know that France, and Germany and other european countries are and have been having a hard time assimilating their minorities, but this is not the way to do it. There are millions of muslims in France and they're not going away--the regular French are just going to have to accept them and not try to change them, especially in such shallow, yet deeply offensive ways.

I wouldn't call it the beginning of a ban on public religion, BackwardsHatClub--this is very different from putting a nativity scene in front of a courthouse.
posted by amberglow at 3:28 PM on December 17, 2003


Does France have secularism as a goal?

Please see Article One of France's constitution: France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organized on a decentralized basis. (emphasis added)

Under the constitution, state institutions (including schools) are to be strictly secular and religiously, philosophically, and politically neutral. Ignore for the moment that the state institution in question is a school; instead, consider first and foremost that the school is a state institution that, by nature of being a state institution, should be strictly secular. Now consider the opposing views on how far secularism should go in schools:

Argument A (anti-hijab): Schools should be completely secular. Individuals that violate this concept are banned from participating.

Argument B (pro-hijab): What the state provides within the school should be secular. Individuals should be free to express their beliefs within reason.

The fundamental question is whether the government has the right to proscribe an individual from expressing their religion in a state institution. Under the constitution, the government must “respect all beliefs.” Along those lines, one must agree that the proscription of a particular religious practice as is the case here, regardless of its non-violent form, never constitutes respect for said religion.

The prohibition on the hijab is unconstitutional (as the State Council found in the 1990s); the wearing or visible possession of a non-violent expression of religion should be allowed.

Considering the implications of enforcing Argument A on other state institutions reveals how ill conceived it is. Imagine a hijab-wearing Muslim woman trying to vote in the next election in France. Should she be prohibited from voting because she is expressing her religion in a secular state institution? Likewise, should a Muslim woman be prohibited from holding elected office because she wears a hijab? To bring it closer to home, consider a Christian man who wears a cross around his neck in plain view. Do those in favor of Argument A honestly expect the public to go along with this equal prohibition of his rights? Under the constitutional provision that all citizens are equal without distinction to religion, if Muslims cant express their religion as they choose, neither can Christians.

In reality, banning of the hijab seems to me to be, despite the rhetoric of French politicians, an expression of Christian beliefs within the school system. This double standard simply cannot be allowed on constitutional grounds. Argument B is the better solution to the problem; it prevents an uproar over the banning of crosses around children’s necks and permits hijabs to be worn in school.
posted by pooldemon at 3:36 PM on December 17, 2003


"Well, Clever Sheep, there are two kinds of atheists: those who see nothing right with religion and those who see something wrong with religion."

There are two types of people in the world, those who say that the world is divided into two types of people, and those who don't.

I think it is perfectly legitimate to both see religion as harmful, and yet not want to live under a government with coercive penalties against religious expression.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 PM on December 17, 2003


Well, Clever Sheep, there are two kinds of atheists: those who see nothing right with religion and those who see something wrong with religion.

Of course that's an oversimplification. There are also atheists who don't really care what other people believe. There are atheists who have a problem with some religions but not others. There are atheists who practice a religion without believing in its supernatural components simply because it feels good and offers some helpful social contact. And of course children are all atheists until they're taught differently.

I doubt most MeFites agree with me but pretty much every "first world" country in the world is heading in the exact direction that France is going and I imagine that we are less then 100 years away from public religion being banned in most place in the world.

I hope not; persecuting religious people usually just radicalizes them. Far better to let the superstitious parts of their religion continue to fade away naturally.

In any case, people have been predicting the imminent end of religion for two hundred years, and it still hasn't happened. Religion does seem to play a decreasingly significant role in daily life, but it's still an important cultural force.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:47 PM on December 17, 2003


P.S. The United Kingdom is of course a constitutional monarchy with the head of state also the head of the church of england.

It would behove more north americans to see that these two interlinked irrelevancies are less and less important to everyday life this side of the pond.

However, they'd not be cheering louder than me when they fall.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2003


I work with people who wear traditional religious clothing. It's weird for all of about 5 seconds until you get to business.

Of all the things that should be banned from schools, the headscarf is pretty low down on the list. Get rid of "Big Johnson" shirts, and visible thongs first.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2003


For many French, the Islamic head scarf symbolizes Muslim militancy
Raise hand if you feel the same. [looks around room, no hands]
Now raise a hand if you're French.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:15 PM CST on December 17

Are you French and can add more, inpHiltr8r. The above statement: for many French the head scarf symbolizes Muslim militancy, it sounds BS for "many". Like I mentioned earlier. The French recently annouced they're embracing muslims with public centers for them.

Get rid of "Big Johnson" shirts, and visible thongs first.
You've never been to France, the daily public dress around the US would be looked down as horrendous. Remember the looks when I explained: Rappers dress that way always, not just while performing or doing a video. Also think French kids wear a uniform in most Public Schools(any members in France care to add more)
posted by thomcatspike at 4:40 PM on December 17, 2003


What if my religion required me to wear school uniform? Would I be getting nekkid?
posted by RokkitNite at 6:12 PM on December 17, 2003


TCS: The French are not one indivisible mass whose opinions are announced by the French government. Hence there is no problem with the opinions of "many French" being different to that of the French government.

Certainly there is much anti-muslim racism in France (as there is in many western countries), and there is a militant Islamic reaction to that (chicken and egg arguments not withstanding).
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:26 PM on December 17, 2003


I'd be interested to see how France can justify this move under article 9 of the European Convention On Human Rights...

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
I don't see how the wearing of scarves, large (large? What's that? More than six foot across?) crucifixes, skullcaps etc in schools can affect public safety, public order, health OR morals. And how is your wearing of a scarve affecting MY rights or freedoms?
posted by kaemaril at 6:46 PM on December 17, 2003


Regarding the FPP, I read this as elements of the French govt. are concerned about 'militancy' in the sizable French muslim population. This concern is not really new in French politics. I suspect that this won't see implementation, at least for some time.

To the folks who state that they would like to see region wiped out: What change ( difference/improvement ) do you see that creating in society? I ask because I hear that position stated quite a bit, but I've never understood what the big-picture upscale is.
posted by rudyfink at 6:47 PM on December 17, 2003


For France, secularism is a very important idea. 50% of the French people say they do not believe in God (the equivalent figure for the US is less than 10%). No French politician would invoke God the way US politicians do.

Most of the people I know there see the expression of orthodox religious symbols in public life as coercive and extremist, and that goes for crosses and kippahs as much as for chadors. The French believe that people are free to practice in their private life, but public life is different. American-style evangelism is regarded as dangerous extremism, pretty much the same way that Americans view Communism.

I don't know what restrictions US schools put on political advocacy in schools. Can you wear a t-shirt demanding a theocracy to school in the US? How about an anti-abortion t-shirt? Would it shock you if a school with a dress code banned the wearing of political buttons in class?

In France, the school system is seen as the first guardian of French republican values, and the French have no problem with the idea of centralized national curricula and practices. The teachers union is politically very organized, and forms the central constituency of the Socialist Party.

My friends in Paris, without exception, believe that it is the duty of the school system to provide children with a secular place that is free of the religious oppression of the family. They see the chador as a symbol of the enslavement of girls to the authority of their fathers, and believe that school should be a sanctuary where they can express themselves more freely. They would say the same thing about Orthodox Judaism or Catholicism. They have no problem with religious practice in the home, but they believe that secularism is a prerequisite to learning.

Chirac has consistently supported left-wing social causes as a triangulating electoral strategy. He is simply reflecting the consensus of French society.
posted by fuzz at 7:09 PM on December 17, 2003


rudyfink: although I don't hope for it to be "wiped out," I do often hope that it fades away on its own. I think for me the quote that says it best is:

"Good people will do good things. Evil people will do evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." -Steven Weinberg

Religion contributes to hatred, to keeping people apart, and to the inhibition of the quest for truth. (A lot of religions tell you what to believe and stifle honest questioning.) Although I know and love many religious people, I frankly don't see why they couldn't be just as good without it, and I suspect that in many ways they'd be better off.
posted by callmejay at 7:12 PM on December 17, 2003


I know if Florida enacted a law like this I'd be wearing the biggest cross I could find.


*volunteers for nailing him onto said big-ass cross*

no, seriously, folks: I guess you all know that France (no, sorry, Freedomce) prohibits crosses in the classroom but respects for example Jewish and Muslim holidays too, not only the Christian ones

because it's really cool to be oh-so-in-favor of civil rights and oh-so-against the evil frogs, but what about a Jewish Orthodox kid -- is she supposed to go to school on Saturdays if her school has a 6-days week?
And what about Muslim kids? Their holy day is Friday. What do you do for them?

me, I'd be happy to have some religious presence in schools, but I can only admire a country where religion (and God talk) has no place at all in the political life (Israel, sadly, civlized a country as it is, will always have to be an exception, since you obviously can't separate religion and public affairs there)

the NoGod thing, one is inclined to admit, was one of the very few decent things about the USSR (with the national worship for the game of Chess, of course)
In communist Albania God was even declared uncostitutional


me, I'd take Communist Albania over the Taliban every day of the week

posted by matteo at 7:16 PM on December 17, 2003


Israel, sadly, civlized a country as it is, will always have to be an exception, since you obviously can't separate religion and public affairs there

Actually, it's very important not to confuse Jewish religion, culture, and ethnicity. A majority of Israelis would probably support a secular (but culturally Jewish) state. The electoral system allows small extremist religious parties to exercise undue influence on government. The assassination of Rabin was partly due to his defiance of the religious right.
posted by fuzz at 7:56 PM on December 17, 2003


"Good people will do good things. Evil people will do evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." -Steven Weinberg

Hitler wasn't particularly religious. Nor was Stalin. Napoleon's various massacres were prompted mostly by nationalism. As were the major powers in world war one. Vietnam was mainly due to the communism vs. Capitalism thing, combined with nationalist rhetoric. The wars between France and England were prompted by a fight for control of the French throne. The French revolution was both bloody and fanatically secular. Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun were motivated by a desire for loot and power. Many people fought in these wars and in the service of these men. These wars weren't particularly religious in nature, yet they were some of the most bloody. I hardly see that people require anything more than the ability to breathe to be evil. Religion is hardly a necessary factor.
posted by unreason at 8:20 PM on December 17, 2003


unreason: I think you're missing the point of the quote. Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun were not good people. Neither was Hitler or Stalin. And you could certanly make the point that Nazisim and Radical Communism were religions into themselves.
posted by delmoi at 9:02 PM on December 17, 2003


I'd be interested to see how France can justify this move under article 9 of the European Convention On Human Rights...

Please see France's comments on its signature to the ECHR. As with any international human rights document, derogations are allowed if a country objects to certain provisions.
posted by pooldemon at 10:29 PM on December 17, 2003


It's not just France. Good old Rehnquist authored a 5-4 decision upholding a military ban on indoor headwear against an Orthodox Jew. Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986). The decision was overturned a year later by statute. 10 U.S.C. § 774.

This does present problems for Orthodox Jews in some forms of employment. Steven Hill, who played the D.A. on Law and Order for the first ten seasons or so, is always wearing a hat in an outside shot, even in the middle of summer.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:00 AM on December 18, 2003


delmoi: I love your explanation. So basically if someone ever does something bad they would have done it anyway and if they do something good same deal, but religion can drag people down, atheism cannot.

I can only speak for myself and I know from time to time my beliefs keep me from doing "bad" things that I wouldn't have any problem with otherwise (I'm talking about stealing something, not a car, something smaller and some other things). So for at least one person religion has done some good.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 2:18 AM on December 18, 2003


I can only speak for myself and I know from time to time my beliefs keep me from doing "bad" things that I wouldn't have any problem with otherwise

Well, what do you mean when you say "your beliefs" here? Are you saying you believe you shouldn't steal because stealing is wrong (and if so, why), or are you saying you don't steal because you're afraid of going to hell?
posted by nath at 4:23 AM on December 18, 2003


BHC: You have a fundamental misconception of atheism. Your précis of delmoi is essentially correct - atheism cannot drag people down. Atheism isn't a set of beliefs, it's the absence of them. That's a difficult concept for anyone brought up in a religious environment to understand. Once you take away beliefs based upon deities, you're on your own. You have to decide right and wrong yourself. If you choose to do "bad" things, you can't blame it on atheism (since there is no atheist creed you are required to follow) and must take responsibility for those actions yourself.

A religious person could murder someone and then claim it was required of him by his religious beliefs. Or your religious leader could demand you do something "bad", so to stay true to your beliefs you would have to follow his orders. That's how it's possible for religion to bring you down, while atheism cannot.

You're also right that religion has value in keeping a vast majority of its adherents on a "good" path. On an individual basis, there is a much higher potential for "evil" in an atheist. Religion is more destructive overall simply due to its ability to organize.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:23 AM on December 18, 2003


On that old "freedom of religion" vs. "freedom from religion" debate:

In order for the people to have freedom of religion, the government, in all of its manifestations, must have freedom from religion. That's the point of secularism.

It is a functional agnosticism - i.e., the government will function as if no religion were true. When the state deviates from functional agnosticism in any way, the people's freedom of religion is infringed.

Personally, I would like it if all oaths of office included a pledge to functional agnosticism. It is already implied when a public official pledges to uphold the constitution, since it is a secular document. But it would be better if the notion were more explicit.

I would quite happily vote for a fundamentalist christian (or muslim, or whatever flavor you wish) candidate, as long as that person pledged to make decisions based on constitutional principles, was free from corporate influence, etc., and acted in accord with that pledge.
posted by yesster at 6:27 AM on December 18, 2003


My religion might dictate that I need to flatuate upon arriving in mixed company. That doesn't exactly make it right.

My religion requires me to carry naked flames. We should never meet.

FWIW, alienation of huge swathes of the population might be an unintended by product of any education system but France probably ought not to enshrine it as an actual goal with this stupidity.
posted by vbfg at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2003


Atheism isn't a set of beliefs, it's the absence of them.

Atheism is a faith like any other. There may not be any rules on the exact nature of that faith, but it's a faith none the less.

Yours, a proud atheist.
posted by vbfg at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2003


Atheism is a faith like any other.

No it isn't.

Yours, another proud atheist.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:17 PM on December 18, 2003


I got an email from a french lurker with interesting background on why the law is supported there. It fills in some of the story we would never know about:
1. This law is basically targetting muslim radicals. Christians and Jews are thrown into it, but it's more a way to make it look like that it's notmuslim-specific. The headscarf debate has been raging on for 15 years actually.

2. While people agree that wearing headgear of any kind is a basic freedom (and in this case more a cultural tradition than a religious thing anyway), the concern is actually about those girls and young women who DON'T want to wear one, but who are obliged to do so through family pressure, peer pressure, fear of being harassed and called a bad muslim, a bad girl, a whore and so on. Those who have managed to escape not only the headscarf, but some of the associated rules and duties (not shaking hands with men, not accepting male doctors, not being able to participate in sports, being sent to the "old country" to be forced into marriage etc.) have been quite vocal about this law being a necessity, particularly in places where not wearing a headscarf can land you in trouble with the local thugs (scarf = good girl for marriage only ; no scarf = bad girl, whore and easy prey). There has been a string of ugly incidents about this, with girls killed or maimed because they were "bad ones". Ironically, the headscarf troubles that make headlines here are often of young teens who made their own choice. The latest case involves two sisters of Jewish and Christian parents, who have decided that radical islam was the real thing. However, the local islamists see these cases not as a matter or personal freedom, but as good way to proselytize and, particularly, put extreme pressure on those French-born muslims (women and men) who, in droves, have adopted the fully secular society they live in but can have second thoughts due to the endemic racism and bad economic conditions. In a nutshell, the law is supposed to remove something that the islamists are longing for, i.e., an official endorsement and the recognition that women can be treated as second-class citizens.

Note that adding the main Jewish and Muslim festivals to the official holydays was planned initially (along with the headscarf law) but finally rejected by Chirac.


posted by amberglow at 4:29 PM on December 18, 2003


What about underpants? (Flash, possibly NSFW.)
posted by homunculus at 6:42 PM on December 18, 2003


France: may it fall to the status of a larger Belgium asap. What a horrid, traumatised culture.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:03 PM on December 18, 2003


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