Tim Soutphommasane; 1/5/10
Is it illiberal for governments to ban practices judged to be illiberal, as the French government is doing with its intended ban on the burka? Those familiar with France will be aware its civic culture isn’t one of vive la difference. The French republic has, since its birth through revolution, stood for an unambiguous and unitary creed: liberte, egalite, fraternite. When it comes to religious expression, republican ideology has meant a non-negotiable stance of secularism: laicite. In 2004, French authorities moved to ban all ostentatious displays of religious symbolism in government schools. Though evidently aimed at the wearing of headscarfs by Muslim students, the ban extends to all forms of religious expression.