Global Ethics Corner: Who Cares What You Wear on Your Head?

Mar 6, 2009

Banning headscarves may violate an individual's right of religious expression and choice. Allowing headscarves may violate a state's commitment to secularism. How do we marry public goods and religious imperatives?

Think of headscarves.

Banning headscarves may violate my right of religious expression and choice. Who cares what I wear?

Allowing headscarves may violate a state's commitment to secularism. Why must I be accosted in public spaces like universities with the personal beliefs of others?

Requiring headscarves may be religious oppression of women, a human rights violation, but by not requiring them do I violate God's higher laws?

According to Ahmet Kuru, "There is a sharp policy distinction between the US, which allows students' religious symbols; France, which bans these symbols in public schools; ...Turkey, which prohibits them in all public and private educational institutions," and Iran, which requires them.

In America we talk about separation of church and state, a passive form of secularism. In France as well as Turkey, the phrase is laïcité, a more assertive secularism.

The three options for state policies may each violate a human right or religious mandate: headscarves for everyone, for no-one, or by personal choice.

How secular can and should the public sphere be? Who decides? How do we marry public goods and religious imperatives?

By William Vocke

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