Hilal Elver, author of The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion, examines last month’s ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights affirming France’s ban on the wearing of the full-face veil in public. She writes:
By now, it is clear that Article 9 of the European Convention does not protect freedom of religion when the subject is a woman and the religion is Islam…. The ECHR acted politically and opportunistically not to challenge France’s strong Republicanism and principles of laicité, sacrificing the rights of the small minority of Muslims who wear the full-face veil. Rather than protecting the individual freedom of the 2000 women, the ECHR protected the majority view of France.
The ECHR is the most powerful supra national human rights court and its decisions have widespread impact. Several countries in Europe, such as Denmark, Norway, Spain, Austria, and even the UK, have already started to discuss whether to create similar laws banning the burqa in public places. This raises concerns that cases related to the cultural behavior and religious practices of minorities could shift public opinion dangerously away from the principles of multiculturalism, democracy, human rights and religious tolerance.
The most recent law bans the full-face veil, but tomorrow, the prohibitions may be against halal food, circumcision, the location of a mosque or the visibility of a minaret; even religious education might be banned for reasons of public health, security or cultural integration.