Banning Religious Symbols: When & Where?


With the recent decision of the Danish government, the question of bans on religious symbols and face-coverings is once again in the news. In this blog I display a table indicating the circumstances in which, in my opinion, such bans are justified.

Sommaire en français Vu la récente décision du gouvernement danois, la question des interdictions des signes religieux et des couvre-visage revient dans l’actualité. Dans le présent blogue, j’affiche un tableau où j’indique les circumstances dans lesquelles de telles prohibitions seraient, à mon avis, justifiées.

Just days ago (2018-05-31) the government of Denmark banned face-coverings in public. The ban will go into effect on August 1st. I salute the courage of the Danish government. This is a strong and wide-sweeping measure, as it applies in public spaces, not just in public services. However, some constraints on these ambulatory prisons for women must be implemented. They should at least be banned in public services (as Quebec’s Bill 62 claims to do, but in fact fails because of easy exemptions).

The Danish approach is certainly preferable to the complacency and the crass illogic of the Canadian government which not only permits religious symbols everywhere, even in the RCMP, before the courts and in state ceremonies, but in addition even celebrates them!

The ban does not violate freedom of religion. It does not prevent anyone from practising their religion. On the contrary, it prevents one form of proselytism by fanatics with a political agenda. It does not matter whether the person wearing such face-covering does so willingly or is forced by others to do so; in the case of the niqab, either way it an expression of politico-religious fanaticism.

As regards the general question of the circumstances in which bans should or should not be applied, the table below represents my personal opinion. Reasonable people may disagree on the details. However, it is certainly not reasonable to oppose all bans on face-coverings or religious symbols, in any and all circumstances. To allow them everywhere is literally insane. Would you trust a cop wearing a large crucifix on his/her chest or wearing a niqab?

On such bans in general, see: Restrictions on Face-Coverings & Religious Symbols.

Circumstance Ostentatious Religious (and Political) Symbols in General Partial face-coverings, e.g. chador* Face-coverings (which may or may not be religious symbols)
Public servants having coercive power (police, judges, prison guards), while on duty Ban Ban Ban
Public servants in general, while on duty Ban Ban Ban
Users of public services No ban No ban Ban
Private individuals circulating in public No ban No ban Maybe ban
Driver of motor vehicle Ban if vision is compromised Ban Ban

* Note: I have put the chador (tchador in French) into a category by itself because it is more restrictive than the hijab (leaving less of the face visible) while being less restrictive than the niqab or burqa. The chador is, so to speak, the Iranian adaptation of the niqab or burqa.

Next blog: In Praise of Cultural Appropriation

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