Government Ban of Burqas

Typically my blog posts are opinionated, and show a sense of certainty on whatever issue I am posting about… Today is not quite typical…

Typically I have a very strong opinion on a topic, and feel justified in arguing that position until I am shown the flaws in my argument and/or logic. But this is one of those issues where I can easily understand both sides, and I believe both sides can make very valid points that I agree with… Basically, I may be leaning towards one side, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in my position. So I leave it up to those who choose to comment, convince me…

But on to the topic at hand:

About a week ago a facebook friend, Lola Heavey, posted a link which began a discussion in the comments of her post, which I participated in. The link was to an article in the Telegraph about some in the French Government looking to impose a ban on burqas.

Now I am certainly no fan of the burqa, or religious idiocy, but I also do not believe that any government should be dictating clothing choices for people.

A few issues were brought up in the discussion (which I think many of them are very valid points, they did fail to change my view on the topic) that I felt were interesting enough to talk about in another forum, mainly this one…

Following is an excerpt of the back and forth (which I feel grasps the main points made by both sides) between myself and a few other people on that thread. I am open to other opinions, or clarifications of issues that I may not have a full understanding of, if anybody out there has more information on any of these topics…
There are many instances where we tell people what to wear. There are anti-mask laws all over the place, like in New York State: http://www.nlgnyc.org/pdf/MaskMemo.pdf and the Ku Klux Klan acts. And there are modesty laws all across most western jurisdictions requiring people to wear certain amounts of fabric.
I would also disagree with prohibiting klan members wearing their robes. While I personally find it offensive, I do not believe I have a right to not be offended, even by something as hateful as the image of a klan robe/hood.
Masks I can understand perhaps as a safety issue, but again I am not sure the argument holds up under scrutiny.
 
However, this is an issue I have not really given a whole lot of thought to previously, and I’m open to changing my mind if somebody gave me the opposing argument.
One way to look at this is to ask “who is demanding that women be ‘allowed’ to wear burqas in public?” Are there waves of free Muslim women petitioning the government? No, of course not – it is radical Muslim men who are demanding the right to force women to do it. These are the men who beat women with sticks and/or throw acid in their faces if they DON’T wear a burqa.
As for who is arguing for the burqa, that is a very valid point. If it’s not the people wearing them who want them, it holds much less weight IMO than if it were the women fighting for the right to wear the burqa.

Adults should generally be allowed to do self-destructive things, and paternalistic laws are offensive (but what if an adult wants to sell herself into slavery?). I agree with Sarkozy that the burka should be considered unwelcome in civilized countries.
 
I agree the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and I personally find it offensive that women must wear them in some societies. And I agree that it should be “unwelcome in civilized countries”.
Where I have an issue though, is when governments get into the issue of what people can and can not wear. to me, this is not the type of thing that governments should be focused on.
The issue is not with robes, but with face/identity covering masks. My point was that for Obama to say that “we” don’t tell people what to wear – well, that’s just wrong. “We” do.

I agree, nobody has a right to be not offended. However, the argument against a burqa would not necessarily come from “offense.” One could justify the general banning of all masks in public, with certain exceptions, in the manner of the New York law without using the word “offense” at all.

I don’t believe I ever said we “don’t” tell people what to wear. I believe I said the government “shouldn’t” tell people what to wear (at least IMO).

I’d have to understand the rational behind the banning of masks better to really comment on that idea.
If it’s for the safety of the person wearing the mask, I think that is easily remedied by ensuring some minimum visibility in any head-covering (and I don’t think I’d oppose this idea).
If it’s for the ability of by-standers to be able to see somebodies face clearly, I’m not sure I understand why this should be required.

I guess I don’t understand the reasons that the government should ban masks in public, or I’ve never heard the arguments for why.
I know you didn’t say “we don’t.” However, my post responded to the article about Obama’s speaeh and Obama said “we don’t.” You then responded to me. I was not presciently responding to your point in advance. 🙂

American courts have held that the anti-mask law furthers the important governmental interest of deterring violence

and facilitating the apprehension of wrong-doers who seek to hide their identity. I suppose one could argue that we should not give a special exemption for religious groups who wear masks for religious reasons.

I mean, we have laws against marijuana use in the U.S., and it is not an exemption to suggest, as some religions do, that it is a sacrament that they must abide by. The government can make secular laws that hinder religion in many instances (at least under US law, that is). The government can ban corporal punishment, even though some religious folk in the past claimed a religious right to hit their children (spare the rod…etc.)

 
I agree that religion shoudl not be exempt from laws that affect those who don’t shre their beliefs (so if face coverings are illegal for some they should be for all).

I just don’t believe that face coverings SHOULD be illegal. I think the individual’s rights (to privacy and/or expression) trump the governments rights to see their face.

 
If the government makes a law, no religion should be exempt.
But the government should have valid reasons for those laws, and those reasons should not infringe on the rights of individuals.
 
On a related note:
If a business (such as a bank) decides that for security reasons (or other reasons not related to security), they will not allow employees or customers to wear face coverings, I support that 100%.
what if the business decides for purely personal reasons? Or for religious reasons? Or for no reason at all?
 
William – I don’t think anyone is unsure about the reasons. Sarkosy said the burqa is a sign of the debasement and subjugation of women. Europe has a history of banning symbols of discrimination – swastikas come to mind. One can’t really logically argue that one symbol of discrimination may freely be banned, and is not protected by fundamental liberties, but another symbol of discrimination is. I can make a persuasive argument that the practice in Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, for example, of requiring women to wear burquas or niqabs covering their faces is a symbol of second class citizenship akin to making them wear yellow stars.
The European system has left these liberties up to the political process. If the majority says the burqa is to women as the swastika is to Jews, then why can’t it be banned?
It is a private business. If the reasons are ones which people disagree with, they do not have to work there or do business there. There are many companies that I choose not to give my money to, but I would not expect the government to make them to change their business practices to make me happy.

If the reasons for their actions are particularly offensive (such as discrimination), then I might support boycots and pickets of such a company. But again, I would not expect the government to force them to change.

Also, even though your other comment was directed at William and not me, I’d like to respond.
I do not believe the swastika should be banned by governments.
Even though I find it to be one of the most offensive symbols in history, if someobdy (or some company) wants to use it, display it, etc, then they are free to do so. But they should also be willing to accept that they will be treated in a certain manner for that choice.

There are valid reasons for not allowing people to wear masks or conceal their faces in public. the anti-mask laws further the important governmental interest of deterring violence and facilitating the apprehension of wrong-doers who seek to hide their identity. Courts have held those to be valid reasons.
 
I’ve seen countless kids wearing masks in late October over the years, and have yet to see a single one of them arrested…

I’ve seen people in cold weather wear ski masks or other face coverings without the police questioning them.

If it’s a reasonable law, then let’s enforce it this halloween, and start throwing children in jail.
If it’s not a reasonable law, then let’s get it off the books.


This conversation went on a biut longer, but it was more of the same mostly… But I did want to finish this post eventually before it gets too long, and I think these words are good to finish it off with:

I just don’t see an argument for the banning of face coverings, that to me trumps the individual’s right of privacy and/or expression.

I agree that burqas are horrid. I wish that nobody wore them due to the stigma associated with them.

BUT I don’t feel that I have the right, or that government has the right to tell peopel they CAN’T wear them.

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About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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