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French Constitutional Court Upholds Ban On Veils

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Since I’m skeptical of even much narrower anti-veil public policy, I find much broader French bans on wearing veils in public particularly dismaying.   Like Somin, I express no opinion about whether the Conseil Constitutionnel’s opinion is sound as a matter of French constitutional law, but agree that to the extent that the decision is plausible it represents an indictment of French constitutionalism, and the legislation itself is a greater indictment. It’s worth noting that this ban — since it’s obviously targeted at the practices of a particular religious minority — almost certainly wouldn’t survive even under the American Smith standard, which many consider too narrow. Achieving gender equality is certainly a compelling state objective. But not only are bans on wearing the veil not necessary for achieving gender equality, it’s not clear if they’re effectual at all. For Muslim women in egalitarian family relationships, bans on the veil represent a diminution of freedom for no benefit, and for Muslim women compelled to wear the veil because of patriarchal family relationships, the bans offer only the most cosmetic relief.  Inscribing into the law the principle that the veil is necessarily a manifestation of sexism is not the right solution to a very real problem.

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