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July 01, 2014 11:57 AM French Ban on Veils Upheld

By Ed Kilgore

Even as Americans are absorbed with a major judicial ruling involving claims of religious liberty, the world’s most famous and longstanding civil/religious conflict—the battle over the French ban on veils—reached a very different resolution in the European courts, per this AP report:

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld France’s law banning face-covering Muslim veils from the streets, in a case brought by a woman who claimed her freedom of religion was violated.
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court was the first of its kind since France passed a law in 2010 that forbids anyone to hide his or her face in an array of places, including the street. The law went into effect in 2011.
The court’s Grand Chamber rejected the arguments of the French woman in her mid-20s, a practicing Muslim not identified by name. She said she doesn’t hide her face at all times, but when she does it is to be at peace with her faith, her culture and convictions. She stressed in her complaint that no one, including her husband, forced her to conceal her face — something of particular concern to French authorities.
The court ruled that the law’s bid to promote harmony in a diverse population is legitimate and doesn’t breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

While I did take a two-week course in EC law in Brussels way back in the day, I have no clue how to interpret the scope and implications of the ECHR decision. But obviously enough, the claims by conservative Muslims for special rules on modes of dress are a whole lot more historically and demographically compelling than Hobby Lobby’s angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments over the metaphysical and ethical consequences of using an IUD—an argument few if any Protestants would have made thirty years ago. And it’s probably safe to say that the communal interests reflected in the Affordable Care Act’s provisions extending health coverage are more intuitively compelling than the French government’s desire that all French look French. So American Exceptionalism rears its ugly head again.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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