CNN.com - School loses prayer appeal - Aug 24%2C 2004
I've always been a firm believer in the separation of Church and State, and the power of a secular state whereby it is not simply sufficient that the Church should never ever intervene in the affairs of the state but furthermore, but conversely the state should not (as far as possible) intervene in the affairs of religion.
Now, with all due respect to the French situation, it's only fair to say that their's is an extreme version of the secular state in that the state itself should be protected from the influence of religion. In particular, the emblem of such a school of thought has to be the banning of OSTENTATIOUS religious symbols. And in all fairness, I will admit that their policy is more even handed, cutting across all religious groups e.g. Roman Catholicism (oversized crosses), Sikhs (turbans), Muslims (tudung), Jew (skull caps) etc. unlike our particular sunny island (which has probably to do with public policy and politics than out of any fevernt desire to maintain a secular state I should think)
The major issue that I have with the French situation is that it is difficult to understand and defend. After all, what is it trying to solve? And does the current policy go far enough? It has been acknowledged on most part that the group most affected by this ruling are the Muslims and in particular their use of the Headscarf. It is very very hard to argue that the wearing of such symbols somehow infringe on my right to freedom of religion. It's one thing to actively evangalise but another to wear something that shows your faith (granted, the law allows it but that it ought not be ostentatious seems very odd). More fundamental to that, what problem is it trying to solve?
I think it's reasonable to argue that other than the protection of the secular state coming under attack, the other reason is the lack of integration on the part of the Muslim immigrants who have form effective ghettos (meaning enclaves here ppl) and not mixed with the rest of French society. The argument continues that such immigrants come from the more fundamentalist parts of Africa or the Middle East, and that they bring with them the form of intolerate Islam that they believe in. It further goes on to argue that if they have choosen to migrate to France (which has easily more Muslims in their borders than the rest of Europe) then they have to be French Muslims not muslims who carry French passports, which means the believe in the freedoms of the revolution and the secular state. If so, then the best this policy does is too somehow remove ostentatious differences between French people. But it doesn't solve the situation of poverty and difficulty in integrating.
After all, lest we forget, this policy is confined mainly to schools so if one wanted to force the issue, one should the policy to all public areas, on the basis that public areas should be a religion free zone.
Sorry, back to America, I'm personally all for a judiciary that tries to keep the public domain scruplously free of religious interference. I mean school prayers in government schools? If they feel the urge to pray so badly, go ahead! But why the necessity of making it mandatory?!!! Equally, yes I realise that the Founding Fathers were WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) males but surely, in a nation that believes so firmly in the separation of church and state, what's with the Ten Commandments? Keep it in the private sphere and all's well and good isn't it?
I wonder how those right wing pundits would feel if the religion in question here weren't Christianity...