France Moves Toward Partial Burqa Ban

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This is an interesting video that demonstrates clearly the different approach that the U.S. and Europe take to dealing with an accommodating religion. The French are taking the steps to implement a ban on burqas, in particular on those that cover a woman’s face. They say that such clothing goes against what the republic stands for. The proposed law provides that women wearing a burqa can be refused public accommodations, such as public transportation, and could be prohibited from even picking up their children at day care. There is also talk about imposing a $1,000 fine on women who continue to wear burqas. This law reminds me of Turkey, where women are not allowed to even wear a head scarf if they go into a public building such as a courthouse (if they are an attorney or as a party to a case) and where the fez, the traditional hat that Muslim men used to wear, was banned from public by Ataturk when he established the Turkish republic.

In the U.S., this just wouldn’t fly. The state can prohibit a religious practice only if it can show a compelling government interest. Here, the argument can be made that wearing a burqa that covers a woman’s face is prohibited for a driver’s license picture, or for any identification purposes such as at an airport for security (something the Muslim women in France concede and are willing to compromise on). But prohibiting women from wearing the burqa at all times? I can’t think of any compelling government interest in that. Our government doesn’t have the compelling interest in seeing our faces and identifying who we are at all times, even if just walking down the street and not doing anything wrong.

A private employer would have to provide a reasonable accommodation to a woman who wants to wear the burqa while at work and could refuse the allow the woman to wear the burqa if it would impose an undue hardship upon the business. Here, I can think of arguments that the employer could make against allowing the woman to wear the burqa, depending on the type of job. If the woman works with the public, in a restaurant or store, a business owner would want the customers and clients to be able to see the employee’s face. I think it is important for public relations. However, if the woman works in a call center and if the callers can hear and understand her with the burqa on, there would be no reason to refuse the request. In a factory with dangerous equipment, the long flowing garment could provide safety concerns. So there is no easy answer.

It is easy to say however, that the ban proposed in France would most likely never been proposed here and even if it were, could never withstand constitutional scrutiny.


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