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(Posted 6:30 a.m., Nov. 3)
New book explores war on religious freedom

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

During the recent federal election, the Conservatives took direct aim at religious freedoms by promising to appeal the federal court ruling allowing Muslim women to wear the niqab while taking the Citizenship Oath, and vowing to create a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.

They obviously didn’t learn anything from the Parti Quebecois whose demise at the polls was due in large part to their insistence on banning garments of religious significance from the public civil service in the doomed Charter of Quebec Values which didn’t place much value on religious freedom.

The Pequistes and the Conservatives both tried to steal a page out of France’s playbook where the wearing of head scarves was banned in public schools in 2004, and niqabs were banned in public spaces in 2011. The ban spread to Belgium and several cities and towns in Italy and Spain, including Barcelona, shortly afterwards.

The issue of banning religious garments as an affront to religious freedom is examined in a new book by Carleton University assistant law professor, Dr. Melanie Adrian, entitled Religious Freedom at Risk: The EU, French Schools, and Why the Veil was Banned.

Among other things, the book takes a critical look at France’s decision to ban head scarves in public schools; the subsequent niqab ban six years later under former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy; and the actions of the European Court of Human Rights the niqab ban.


Dr. Melanie Adrian tackles the issue of banning religious garments in secular societies in her book ‘Religious Free-dom at Risk’. Scott Adamson/Photo

Dr. Adrian spent a year teaching at a high school in a mainly muslim Paris suburb the year after the head scarf ban was passed. She lived through the subsequent riots in the fall of 2005 when her school was fire-bombed and she used the incidents to generate lively discussions in her classroom which were just as educational to herself as they were to her students.

She explains the concept of laïcité, or French state secularism, which formed the basis on which the underlying precepts of the banning of religious garments and symbols in public schools were rooted. Laïcité is not just a concept in France, it is a requirement that is entrenched in their Constitution. In it’s truest sense it bars the observance and practice of one’s “religious freedom” to the privacy of your own home, or place of worship.

Dr. Adrian argues that women have the right to express their religious beliefs and customs in a secular society so long as in doing so they don’t harm anyone else or themselves.

Dr. Adrian’s book is important in that it offers a historical and sociological perspective on the war on religious freedoms in the 21st century.

There are lessons to be learned from the French experience so that we don’t make the same mistakes here in Canada where secularism and religious freedom are not mutually exclusive;

Religious Freedom at Risk, is an important educational text for anyone interested in acquiring a deeper understanding of Muslim culture and religion in western society and the danger posed by well-meaning, yet misguided ne’er-do-wells on what ought to be a fundamental freedom in an enlightened society.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)


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