Sydney Kendall Says

Thinking in public about anything that matters.

The Scarf: Should it be banned in Schools?

This entry is more to gather information and the reasoning of others than to put forth my own.

Under my mental banner of “Religious Freedom” I have always believed that so long as the followers of a religion do not try to impose their practices on others by threats of or actual physical force, they should be free to go about their (non-human-sacrificing) rituals and customs as they will.

But since two World Trade Center towers, one Pentagon and four airliners collided with I forget how many terrorists, there are some who have focussed on banning one symbolic aspect of Islamic custom from use in schools: the head scarf. And forget about the whole-female-body cover-up deal.

My first reaction to such banning in French schools was that if private schools wanted to make such rules, they were entitled. A private school has the right to set its standards and its dress code, and a person can choose whether to attend that school and pay tuition or not. But a public school is different. In a country that forces taxpayers – all taxpayers – to pay for the school whether they attend or not, and that has laws requiring children to attend school whether you can afford a private school after taxes or not, you may be trapped into going to the public school. If you’re a Muslim but can’t afford a Muslim school, then you have to go public.

If you believe the proper practice of your religion requires females to wear the headscarf, or to cover from head to foot, it’s a violation of your religious freedom to force a student to uncover her head or to walk around in a school uniform that bares her legs.

I have since heard some arguments that, if not totally convincing to me, have made me pause in my judgement on this issue. I am extremely uncomfortable with government denying anyone the right to dress according to their religious custom, whether on the street or in schools. I could understand banning if the religious custom was to wear a gun holster packed with a loaded gun or to wear a dynamite vest. But a long dress and/or a headscarf?

But a couple of days ago an argument put forward in favor of schools banning Muslim customary dress for females surprised me and jogged my opinion – a bit. I want to explore this further.

I won’t try to reproduce here the arguments I’ve heard from other people on this subject. I’m going to invite them to speak for themselves.

And to everybody else, whatever your considered views on this issue, please hit that comment button and let me know about them!

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  1. Do onto others what you would like to be done to you.

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  2. There was a case in FL where a woman insisted on covering her face for her photo which goes on her drivers license. So I’d like to give the subject more thought and see what case law says on the issue (I am not sure if it varies state to state), just to be sure my own opinion is consistent.
    While I do not find the wear of religious scarves (?) or jewelry offensive, at what point would public school officials say that a line has been crossed should a girl come to public school dressed in a full blue burka as the women had been made to wear in Afghanistan by the Taliban (if that is the religion practiced at home and expectation of her parents).

    At what point in a society does religious tolerance bend SO far? And at what point would or should the government have an opinion?

    I will stay tuned here as I work this thought out for myself. 🙂

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