Executive Director, American Humanist Association
The recent push in Quebec to ban religious clothing and symbols such as the burka and niqab reignited the heated debate about the role of the state in preventing religious abuse of vulnerable people, mainly women and children. To some, this proposed ban is the result of the burka’s association with anti-democratic ideology and misogynistic gender relations, while to others it is the result of xenophobia and a lack of religious tolerance. Either way, Quebec certainly isn’t the first place to consider such a ban, as France currently has a law on the books that bans burkas and punishes those who force others — again, typically women and children — to wear them.
While outright bans on religious apparel are a serious limit on free speech and expression, those who support and wear religious clothing must also respect the rights of others to dress and live as they please, and should not be permitted to force their ideology or customs on others, even if they are family members. The problem with respecting the rights of religious individuals to practice their faith as they see fit while defending the rights of others to live free from religious compulsion is that there is no definitive legal standard by which the state can become involved to stop religious abuse.
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Roy Speckhardt is the executive director of the American Humanist Association.