Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Unchurched State

While here in the USA forces are mustering to infuse secular life with sectarian theology, in France a bizarrely complementary attempt at forced secularization is underway.

I'm referring to their proposed prohibition in public schools of Muslim headscarves, "large" crosses, yarmulkes, "religious" beards (as opposed to secular ones) and other visible, outward signs of religious affiliation. Sikhs will be allowed to wear "clear showercaps" in lieu of turbans.

This is a dangerous intrusion of the state into private religious observance and expression, more apt to impact on people that have historically suffered discrimination -- Jews and Muslims -- than on mainstream Christians who typically do not wear particular garments as part of their faith.

What, then, one must ask, is a "large" cross ?

Take a beard: if it is a religious signifier, it must be shaved. If it is simply a fashion statement, it can remain. Same beard, different "meaning."

How will they determine what a beard "means" ?

And if these "visible signs" are banned in schools, where will they be banned next ? And after the signs are banned, will what they signify -- one worries particularly about Judaism and Islam -- also be banned ?

This is not just an extension of our own valuable division of church and state, which prohibits state imposition of a particular religion on its citizens while it allows them free, private expression of any faith they choose. It is an intrusion of the secular state into the most private of spheres -- the body itself and the significant and expressive articles that adorn it.

I fear this lofty concept of "secularization" is a cover for ugly religious bigotry, and that Muslims and Jews are the intended targets.

France deserves all the ridicule and vilification it's getting over this.

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