The legislation adopted Tuesday by the Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament, forbids people from concealing their faces in public. It makes no reference to Islam, and includes exceptions for people who need to cover up for work reasons, such as riot police and surgeons.
But it follows a year-long campaign by Mr. Sarkozy’s ruling party against the burqa and niqab, head-to-toe robes worn by a small number of France’s Muslim women. The burqa is “a sign of enslavement and debasement,” Mr. Sarkozy said last year.
This move may be largely symbolic, as very few women wear burqas in France. But the symbolism is vital; the burqa is an affront to liberty. French Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie captures the essence:
“Showing one’s face is a question of dignity and equality in our republic”
Is banning the burqa an affront to liberty by denying freedom of religion? No. In our country, we must remember that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Rights are not absolute; there are always limits, and it’s always a question of where those limits and boundaries lie.
In France, for now, they’ve decided that the “right” to religious freedom in this instance infringes on a woman’s right to be treated as a full human being. And, of course, as an affront to the free discourse between free citizens in a republic. That goes for us, as for France.
To claim a violation of “religious freedom” is to posit that one right completely trumps other rights. What if a religion calls for infant sacrifice? Would it be wrong to ban it?