Thursday, March 16, 2006

Freedom of Religion vs. Secularism around the World

The Canadian Supreme Court recently ruled that daggers (called kirpans) are symbols of religious faith for Sikhs and that Candian schools must make reasonable accommodations and allow Sikhs to carry the daggers in Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, 2006 SCC 6. |Court Opinion|Lexis|Westlaw|

In a California case with similar facts, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995 that a school district had to make reasonable accommodations for Sikh student's religious beliefs including the wearing of a kirpan or dagger. The court was unimpressed by the school district's bald assertion that its total ban of weapons on school grounds was entitled to judicial deference. The school district failed to present any evidence of why less restrictive methods would not be effective.
[O]ther school districts with a Khalsa Sikh population had managed to accommodate kirpans without sacrificing student safety. For example, the record included the policies of two California school districts, which allowed kirpans so long as the blades were dulled, no more than 2 1/2 inches, and securely riveted to their sheaths. The natural question was why the same compromise would not work here. The school district gave us no answer. |Cheema v. Thompson, 67 F.3d 883, note 4 (9th Cir. 1995)|Findlaw|Lexis|Westlaw|
Recently there has been a spate of litigation across the globe forcing societies to balance freedom of religion and secularism.

"The [Canadian Multani ruling] was welcomed by civil liberties groups in Canada as an important victory for freedom of religion. They say it may have an influence on other disputes, including controversies in a number of Quebec schools over whether Muslim girls should be able to wear the hijab, the traditional head-covering."|Guardian|

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that Turkey can ban Muslim headscarfs in the University, upholding similar bans in France and Germany. The BBC's covers headscarf rulings throughout Europe.

On a related note, France has recently declared that Sikhs must remove their turbans for driver's license photos.

Stuart Jeffries explains the French hostility to religious symbols this way:
In any case, the ban on religious symbols in French schools is only part of a broader policy of laicité (secularism), which stems from a French revolutionary tradition. It is not in God that the French trust, the feminist thinker Hélène Cixous explains, but in human rights and in the power and responsibility of ordinary men and women to make a good society without reference to gods or kings. The aim has been to create a secular public space where individuals renounce part of what she calls their "personal particularity", while the right to religious expression is guaranteed in their private lives. A flourishing multicultural society, the French insist, needs spaces where different races and religions can meet as equals. |Guardian|

1 comment:

Tillerman said...

I think the French have the right approach.

It's only a matter of time before some religion insists that, as a matter of faith, their adherents have a "right to bear arms". Think what it would be like to live in a country where everyone has the right to bear arms.

Wait a minute, I do. Help, let me out.