Higher Priority of Religious Freedom
Background and Question:
President Obama recently criticized a French law that prohibits Muslim girls and women from wearing body- and face-covering garments in public schools. "It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit," Obama said in Cairo, "for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear."
But French President Sarkozy this week gave his support to attempts to bar Muslim women from wearing body-cloaking robes such as the burqa. "The burqa is not a religious sign," Sarkozy said. "It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."
What's your view? Is this a private religious matter or a public/government one? Is the burqa welcome in America?
High Priority of Religious Freedom
Religious freedom is repeatedly threatened by powerful governments, extremist ideologues and encroaching secularism. Let us take every opportunity to uphold religious liberty in democratic America, secular Europe, Communist China, Muslim Asia, changing Africa, Christian Latin America and everywhere else.
Is the burqa a religious sign or a sign of subservience? French President Sarkozy says is about subservience not religion. Others may agree. But, it is the woman wearing the burqa who should give the first definitive answer to the question. And, since President Sarkozy is not a Muslim and doesn't wear a burqa his opinion is not as important.
When the French government decides what is a religious sign and what is not then it has positioned itself to pass equal judgment on the Catholic priest's vestments, the Jewish rabbi's yarmulke and the Muslim cleric's prayer cap. That becomes an erosion of religious freedom.
Do we want equal respect and rights for women? Of course. Absolutely. Might there be a forced choice between protecting the cultural rights of women and the religious liberty of a minority? Indeed there might. The answer is to promote and protect women's rights and religious liberty but let's choose religious liberty as the higher priority.
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