By Jonathon Van Maren
Just a brief postscript to the ongoing discussion triggered by my column on the “burkini” ban on some French beaches, which critics responded to by saying that they thought it was a good and reasonable thing to do, to which I responded by pointing out that throwing our lot in with militant secularists who wish to restrict religious freedom and ban forms of religious expression is misguided and dangerous.
Almost at precisely the same time as my critics were claiming that banning the burkini had no impact on religious freedom and that it was bizarre to say the same standard would be applied to Catholicism, the deputy mayor of Nice was on Radio 4 in France affirming that yes, the same standard did apply. “If you want to go to the beach in a burkini it’s forbidden because it is a provocation,” Rudy Salles told the radio host. “Religion and the state are completely separated. Religion is the affair of each one but each one at home, each one at church, not each one in the street.” When asked if the same standard applied to nuns who might wear their habits on the beach, he replied that yes, yes it does.
So there you have it, then. What the French secularists are doing is saying that visible expressions of faith are not welcome in the public square, because religion only belongs in the home and in the church, not “in the street.” Please run along home, your faith is showing. This is precisely the point I was making: you cannot endorse a system of “religious freedom for me but not for thee.” Those who responded in a Pavlovian fashion to the term “sharia,” that unseen but omnipresent threat, now cannot protest the fact that nuns are banned from wearing their habits on the beach with any consistency, because they have already agreed that the state has the right, in some circumstances, to ban certain forms of religious clothing. They have just been forced to realize that they are not in control of what the government decides to ban, and hopefully have just realized that teaming up with the secularists is a foolish and misguided idea when it comes to restricting religious freedom.
So to those Christians who are happy to support the banning of religious expression they do not agree with while hoping that such standards are not turned about to apply to their forms of religious expression as well: This is the end result. We didn’t even have to wait a week to find out that this is not the secularists versus the burkini, this is the secularists versus religious expression “in the street.” They will be quite happy to accept your support for banning the burkini, and quite happy to ignore your protests when they ban the nun’s habit.
You might disagree with forms of religious expression that do not reflect your religious beliefs. It would be strange if you did not. But if you oppose their right to engage in such expression, you are helping to weave the rope they will use to hang your religious freedom, too.