Paris - The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom or speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The first part of that amendment has been all but replaced by a clause which inaccurately represents its intent: the Separation of Church and State. This phrase has been invoked to accomplish the exact opposite of what the amendment was intended to do, resulting in the prohibition of the free exercise of religion.
France, which typically rejects anything of American origin, is, however, doing the same thing. They have recently passed a bill banning conspicuous religious symbols in schools. This ban includes Muslim head scarves, Jewish skull caps and Christian crosses.
In a move designed to “defend secularism and protect all women from fundamentalist pressures,” Jean-Pierre Raffarin got a majority of his ruling party to pass this bill. He said, “That is the main point. This is not about religion, it’s about lifting constraints on women.”
French-run state schools have already used the ban to expel at least two Muslim students for refusing to remove their head coverings. As pressures mount we can only expect this to get worse, with bad feelings on both sides.