The French Burqa Controversy and Separation of Church and State

Recently, the French government put a new law into place that says Muslim women can no longer wear the burqa (or full body veil) in certain public places.  The fear, in the absolute worse case scenario, is that hiding underneath the black cloth would not be an innocent citizen attempting to keep her peace, but rather someone with explosives or anything else that would do harm to others in the name of Allah.  One cannot go very long without hearing about the dreaded suicide bombers in all regions of the world, bombers that come in all shapes, sizes, costumes, and genders.  And so on a certain level there is a legitimate fear.  On the other hand, I believe that people who are not used to such mystique characters walking their streets fear these unknown faces for the simple fact that they are unknown…the same reason why many people fear clowns.  The burqa ban presents an interesting case of the separation of church and state.  On one hand, the state believes this ban is protecting itself from the church; on the other, the church (or mosque) is being violated by the state.

Now before American Christians begin to support the French government for their actions, remember your own debate.  Many American Christians, particularly of the evangelical variety, feel as though the state has violated their religious freedom to practice faith in certain public places.  Things such as removing prayer from schools and taking down the ten commandments in court houses have caused a stir for those who believed in the “America of Christian Roots.”  Yet it was those founding statesmen who claimed to be Christian but advocated for the separation of church and state.  Why?  Because a large number of those people or their relatives fled England, a place where one was forced to adopt the state’s official religion for their own.  Whoever was the monarch of the time got to choose how the country believed; and if you did not switch back over to the new monarch’s faith, sometimes grave consequences ensued (e.g. Bloody Mary isn’t just a drink). 

The original idea of the separation of church and state was to protect the church and religious freedom from the state.  Somewhere along the line (I don’t know when really) the interpretation switch to protect the state from church or religious influence.  Now I don’t really know what’s so threatening about a couple kids praying in school, but when it happens the (objective?) atheist groups cry victim (I question the objectivity of atheism because they make their own determinations about the divine, which by definition can be called a religion itself…but that’s another post).  But even though the tables have been turned, I still believe the separation of church and state is an important construct based on its original intent.  I only wish it would be used to protect religious freedom rather than suppress it.

Yet Christians also need to change their ways as well.  Although we want the freedom to express our faith, we need to stop the false and unbiblical expectation of “Christianizing” the United States.  Just like England and Rome, making Christianity the nation’s religion doesn’t bode well for the faith and those who believe.  Preach the Gospel, share the love of Jesus, and invite others on the journey with you.  The U.S. is a nation that now (and always has?) lives according to the standards of secularism…not Chrsitianity.  So we shouldn’t expect anything more or less.  We are not the norm.  And the more Christians push for Christianization of the land, the more their own rights and privileges will be scaled back.

7 thoughts on “The French Burqa Controversy and Separation of Church and State

  1. I agree completely with separation of church and state. I think it is paramount to religious freedom. The first Americans fled from government sponsored religion.

    I think it is wrong that any government ban the burqa. I understand the fear but people shouldn’t live by fear. Banning any religious practice due to fear will only elevate society’s anxiety.

    When government gets involved in religion, people are oppressed. China is a good example. When religion gets involved in government, people are oppressed. Iran is a good example. It is a vicious cycle. Therefore the two must remain separate if people are able to have true freedom of religion.

  2. This is quite a good blog.
    Bearing in mind I dont agree with a lot of what you’re saying. There are good points well made.

    I also very much agree with the separation of church and state, but Jefferson made it very clear that he believed it was a question of both protecting religious freedoms and also protecting the state from religious prejudice.

    The burqa is known throughout the world not only as a symbol of a religious tradition but also of female oppression.

    The Koran makes no specific mention of the burqa. It is important to be modest, and maintain a sense of reticence in Muslim tradition, but nowhere does the Koran say women must be covered from head-to-toe, with their face completely concealed.

    Thanks to fundamentalist Muslims and ‘hate’ preachers, the veiling of women is suddenly all-pervasive and promoted as a basic religious right. The Taliban used to force women to wear the burqa as they believed seeing a womans face lead to the corruption of men.

    If therefore there is no religious aspect, but that wearing a burqu is politically advantageous then it should be subject to any other item of clothing, which if it covers the head is removed in public places such as banks so CCTV’s can properly identify people.

    As for Christianity in schools, I personally don’t have a problem with a child praying. I have a problem with a child being forced to pray. When we teach Christianity as fact, we are forcing our kids into a doctrine.

    Schools are a place of learning, and the learning is based upon an agreed national curiculum that should be appropriate to the world our children are growing up in. It is precisely because of this that we have always stuck to verifiable proof when teaching young students.

    In my opinion, it is better to teach an understanding of all religions and more specifically how they impact our lives today, making sure we show no preferrence.

    Likewise I have no problem with questioning the facts about darwins theory, but I object wholly to teaching totally unproven creationism, as an equally likely theory.

    I believe you are totally right with your last comments about us living in a secular based society.

  3. Well you raise a very interesting point about the barqas. Society usually tolerates religious expression until it thinks that an expression may be harmful to its own set of standards. So…if barqas contribute to the oppression of women, then society would forbid them as it values the equality of women. What would we call these set of standards that society has adopted, and by what method do we reach such a set of standards? In a sense, there is even a religiosity about society’s standards (even secular ones) in that it believes in values as inherently and universally good.

  4. Well yes there is a religiosity, but we need to be a little careful here.
    Since religion has an opinion on almost everything, then we are tempted to say that everything is influenced by religion.

    This may be true, or it may not be. Its very hard to distinguish.

  5. Very interesting points made. Based on Sarkozy’s own statements I think it is less an attack on religious values and mare upon cultural norms. The Europeans starting in the 60’s and 70’s allowed unfettered immigration from the muslim world to work the low income jobs for various reasons. Much in the same way the United States has done with Mexico and Central America. This flood of immigration in both cases was not accompanied with a “europeanization” or “americanization” of the immigrant populations. Hence, you now have two groups of people isolated by language, and more importantly in France’s case custom, that have not been assimilated to become truly French. I think this is an attempt by the conservative element to set limits on the extent in which the uncompromising islamic culture can survive outside of mainline France. If the muslim minority is to continue to live in the modern western world provided by the French state they must give in to certain requirements to accommodate the number of other cultures in that society. Those other cultures don’t prevent muslims from practicing islam and muslims should not be able to force others to stand by as they oppress women in a purely cultural, not religious, burqa.

  6. Crumbs Church and State to Multi-culturalism. This blog is moving fast.

    No real argument there Brooks. Clearly the French needed workers, but now they’re staying, the French want to make them a little more French. Or at least a little less muslim.

    This is a perfect right-winged bandwagon to jump on too. It bothers people from every country when cheaper migrant workers come in, bringing their own cultural standard. And then to see them argue extraordinary rights under the auspices of religion is the icing on the cake.

    I guess the question is, regardless of whether this is a political motivation or a cultural one, are we in agreement with the French?

    Should their banning of the burka be supported?

    I think i’m happy enough with it.

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