Man Without Qualities

Thursday, December 11, 2003

There Was A Time When The French Knew About Personal and Political Rights

But it's hard to imagine a worse way to address expressions of religious differences in public schools than this:

A report delivered to President Jacques Chirac on Thursday called for a new law banning the wearing of "conspicuous" religious symbols in French public schools - large crosses for Christians, head scarves for Muslim girls, or skullcaps for Jewish boys.

The recommendation was the most striking in an official reassessment of how to preserve the principle of the separation of religion and state in France in light of such developments as the rise of a large Muslim population and a new wave of anti-Semitism.

In other words, to preserve the principle of the separation of religion and state in France the state is to take a highly intrusive official position against expressions of traditional religion. And to think that it is a true insult in France to call a person "stupid" - especially someone in public service.

The policy will apply to only "large" and "conspicuous" religious symbols. The adjudications required should be exquisite. For example, will the special undergarments worn by some Mormons be considered "conspicuous" under the law because they show up big time in the locker room? (Hey, for a while, the disrobing kid is wearing nothing else!) Just how long can an Orthodox Jewish boy let his hair grow before the state intervenes with the clippers? What if a student adds a blob of red paint to that small crucifix - or a glow-in-the-dark coating? Better have a judge on hand to decide! There will be many sensitive issues and refined distinctions to be made!

So why stop with a ban on "large" and "conspicuous" symbols. It's just not workable - and selective squelching of other people's religious expressions can be so tiring on a unionized teacher! A "zero tolerance" position is the way to go. Clear and crisp and mindless. That would really root out the "problem" - although there will be difficult issues remaining, like what to do when some sneaky little Catholic brings a bottle of Svyatoi Istochnik filled with Holy Water! There are precedents to follow in such cases.

What next? A government decision to destroy Paris in order to save it?

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