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French Ban on Face Veils Takes Effect Today

by Professor Will Huhn on April 11, 2011

in Constitutional Law,Freedom of Religion,Freedom of Speech,Wilson Huhn

A new law takes effect in France today prohibiting women from wearing face veils in public.

Camille Rusticci of AP in France bans face-covering Islamic veil reports about the national law prohibiting the wearing of full-face veils in public that went into effect in France today.  She  also describes a demonstration that was conducted in front of Notre Dame Cathedral protesting the ban.  She states:

About a dozen people, including three women wearing niqab veils with just a slit for the eyes, staged a protest in front of Notre Dame on Monday, saying the ban is an affront to their freedom of expression and religion.

Much larger crowds of police, journalists and tourists filled the square.

One of the veiled women was seen taken away in a police van. A police officer on the site told The Associated Press that she was detained because the protest was not authorized and the woman refused to disperse when police asked her to.

The Open Society Foundation, funded by George Soros, issued a report today entitled Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Women Wear the Full-Face Veil in France.  It paints a  sympathetic portrait of these women – they are nearly all French citizens, they freely choose this manner of dress, and they report that they increasingly encounter criticism and rude comments when they go out in public.

Stephanie Le Bars of Le Monde responds to the Open Society report in an article published today entitled Des femmes vivant avec le voile intégral témoignent ("Women living with the full-face veil speak out").  She states:

Marquée par une approche anglo-saxonne et une incompréhension face aux débats récurrents sur l'islam en France, cette plongée inédite précise le profil, le quotidien et les motivations de ces femmes.

Readers, please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this translates to:

Marked by an Anglo-Saxon approach and a complete misunderstanding of the recurrent debates over Islam in France, this unpublished study describes the characteristics, daily life, and motivations of these women.

Take that, you Open-Society Anglo-Saxons!

Whatever our understanding of the situation in France, Le Bars is correct that such a law would not stand in this country.  Although there may be circumstances where a person would have to remove a full-face veil – to be photographed for a passport or a driver's licence, entering or leaving the country at the border, going through airport security, or upon arrest – it is inconceivable that a law prohibiting women from voluntarily wearing veils in public would be upheld as constitutional in the United States – no more than a law banning the wearing of headscarves in the public schools (adopted in France in 2004) would be upheld.