Regrettably there are not a few who conceive that the language “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” permits, if not mandates, the establishment of a secular state. Some may even fancy that the United States should approach the concept of such a state that has been adopted by France. This would be tragic.
France admittedly has a unique legal framework where the laïcité principle was in incubation for over two (2) centuries. However, as demonstrated by a most-recent abuse of this principle that is discussed in the New York Times “Another Hijab Furor Hits France, Over a Mother on a School Trip” article, its application yields egregious results and certainly should be avoided by all other legal systems.
Being offended appears to be a salient motivating sentiment these days. While in certain instances it could be a legitimate grievance, the character of the putative offense is the determining factor.
Ad hominem assertions are one set of offending assertions that generally should be castigated. However, an expression that the opinion of another is unfounded, imprudent, or unwise — or, perhaps, even just stupid — should never be restrained. Even more offensive is when an effort is made to restrain isolated actions of a person who is thereby expressing their own opinion.
The wearing of a hijab certainly is encompassed within the latter category. It is isolated in that it does not impinge upon or restrict either the liberty or freedom of another. And it is but the expression by the wearer of their own opinion, in this case of religious beliefs.
It does suggest that the wearer believes their opinion and beliefs are superior to those of persons who hold contrary opinions and beliefs. But are there not a diversity of opinions and beliefs? And is there not a value in this diversity as it allows an inducement, or at least an opportunity, for assessment of one’s own opinions and beliefs?
Homogeneity has many benefits; but they are best embraced and pursued in discrete communities. As duality is the rule in all systems, in order to preserve homogeneity, heterogeneity must also be preserved.
Here, those objecting to these public displays are seeking to suppress contrary opinions and beliefs. But the expression of opinions and beliefs, either verbally or non-verbally, best enables the preservation of them. These efforts at restriction obviously are destructive of both heterogeneity and diversity.
Even more abusive are restrictions that evince religious hostility or restrict religious diversity. Unlike actions that have common activities as a focus — and therefore have a greater capacity to unjustifiably impinge upon the liberty of another — religious opinions and beliefs are inherently of an abstract character. For this reason, as well as the very character of the focus of these beliefs, they have historically always been afforded greater protection. (It is of course recognized that history records numerous acts of violence perpetrated in the name of religion, but these almost universally constitute repudiation of those religious beliefs and thus do not invalidate the aforesaid assertion.)
The policy of laïcité had its origins in the French Revolution as a reaction to the power of the Church under the monarchy. Excessive power of the Church was deemed inconsistent with “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”. But is excessive power concentration in the state an appropriate remedy for perceived ills? For:
How is suppression of the expression of opinion consistent with Liberty?
If all are Equal, how can some opinions be more equal than others?
Does not relegation of some opinion to disfavored status in fact destroy Fraternity?
A Free State permits all actions of its citizens that do not impinge upon vital interests of another. These include all expressions and displays of religious opinions and beliefs. Secularism though seeks to suppress those expressions and beliefs by purging them from the public arena. It then by circumscribing and abbreviating the scope of those opinions which it deems permissible is in service of ignorance.
Let us then pray that this malignant contagion never infests our shores, and that we may succeed in retrenching the misconceived abbreviation of this liberty inflicted by our Courts in incipient service of this foreign doctrine.
WAYNE A. SMITH
Sanilac County, Michigan USA
24 October 2019