The USA Today's Editorial View is shared below:
The specter of French police patrolling beaches — and ordering women to remove their demure swimwear or leave — raised a lot of eyebrows last week. It also raised a provocative question: How is France, with its national commitment to secularism, any different from
In Saudi Arabia, as in France, officials have been known to patrol public spaces sanctioning women for their attire — in their case because it is too revealing, not too modest. And in Saudi Arabia, as in France, officials justify their actions based on an overarching national cause.
France’s secularism is not a state religion. But when it reaches the point of police officers telling women what to wear and not wear, it becomes a form of suppression of individual liberties by an overweening state.
Friday's ruling by a top French court — striking down one town’s ban on burkinis, the full-length swimsuits designed for Muslim women — did a real favor for the nation’s image. It also underscored the superiority of America’s approach to religious expression.
The ruling doesn’t immediately affect the 30 other cities and communities, including Nice, the nation’s fifth-largest city and the site of last month's
Here at home, Americans treat matters of religion through the awkward lens of the First Amendment. Its two religion clauses — one prohibiting government from recognizing an establishment of religion, and another preventing it from interfering with people’s free exercise of religion — can be cumbersome and sometimes contradictory.
For decades, lawyers and judges have struggled with the question of how to accommodate displays of faith in public settings such as schools without their accommodations constituting a kind of recognition. The Supreme Court was forced to rule several times on such issues as nativity scenes at city hall, Bible study groups at public schools and prayers at graduation ceremonies.
Yet for all its contradictions, the American approach is far better than trying to enforce secularism in public places while allowing people to worship as they please in their homes and religious institutions. In America, the government does not require people of faith to pretend to be something they are not. And it assumes that they can be observant of their own religion while being respectful of other faiths.
The French approach is clearly driven by peoples' fears about terrorism and their apprehension over the growing number of Muslims in the country. The burkini bans have been adopted in the wake of the attack in Nice and one in Paris last November, and five years into a national ban on face-covering burqas in public places. That ban, if anything, has backfired, causing civil rights groups to encourage burqas as a form of protest.
The mayor of Cannes justified his ban on the grounds that the burkini is a “symbol of Islamic extremism” that is “not respectful of good morals and secularism.” If a full-length suit covering everything but the hands, face and feet does not show good morals, then scuba divers should be worried. And if clothing associated with a particular religion is not secular enough, then surely it is also time to ban the religious habits of Catholic nuns.
It is time for France to get rid of its ridiculous bans on burkinis, and hopefully Friday’s court ruling will help sweep them out to sea.