Advancing a Free Society

Can Sarkozy Justify Banning the Veil?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Last month, in a speech from the Elysée Palace, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his intention to enact a ban on the full Muslim veil. The decision—which was preceded by an extended public debate but was likely occasioned by recent regional elections in which the Socialist-led opposition delivered a drubbing to Mr. Sarkozy's party—would expand the scope of France's 2004 law that prohibits the wearing of headscarves and other conspicuous religious symbols at state schools.

Mr. Sarkozy's ban on the full veil represents a draconian measure for a free society. Arguably, it is necessary and proper. But it won't prevail without a fight. A few days after Mr. Sarkozy's speech, the Council of State, France's highest administrative body, declared that an outright ban would be hard to enforce, might be unconstitutional, and should be rejected. Meanwhile, a similar ban was unanimously approved by Belgium's home affairs committee last week and will be voted on by the lower house of parliament later this month.

Restrictions on liberty in a free society are always suspect and in need of justification. The best justification is the protection and promotion of freedom.

Continue reading Peter Berkowitz in The Wall Street Journal