Scenario One: France. The government, insisting that the country is secular, is trying to strip the religious freedom enjoyed by uslim females in wearing their chadors in public places, including schools and government office buildings.

The French Constitution – written by General Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic – states that there is no official religion, but that people are allowed to practice whatever religion they choose within France’s borders.

In recent months, the rightist government of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has become completely obsessed with keeping chadors off the heads of Muslim women. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Education Minister Luc Ferry, have proposed law after law to take away the right of Muslim women to practice their religion.

In an attempt to make every person look exactly the same before the law, the majority in Parliament as well as the ministers in the Cabinet have launched a campaign for support for their proposed laws that is nothing but the creation of a new state religion called “secularism” which it is trying to impose on the general population. Evidently, the government has not learned from judicial precedent when then Constitutional Council overturned a law banning the wearing of chadors in public schools.

What is perhaps most ridiculous about the proposed legislation, largely supported by the French population, is that the French continue to enjoy Ascension Day, Assumption Day, the Pentecost and All Saints’ Day as national “republican” holidays. If people were asked to work on these days, I suspect that there would be a three week strike paralyzing the country.

Scenario Two: Alabama. Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, installed a 5,280 pound stone monument of the Ten Commandments, a portion of the Book of Exodus, read by Christians and Jews.

The U.S. Constitution – largely written by James Madison, who eventually became president of the United States – reads that Congress shall make no law infringing upon the freedom of religion. The document also states that there is a wall of separation between church and state.

A Federal Court magistrate rightly ordered that the statue, casually known as “Roy’s Rock,” be removed. The eight associate justices of Alabama’s Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Court and also suspended their Chief Justice.

Thousands of rightwing Christians appeared for a sit-in on the Alabama Supreme Court’s steps claiming that the two court orders were insulting to God and that the shrine should remain in the main rotunda of the building. Evangelical ministers proclaimed the orders were taking away the First Amendment rights of Christians and Jews. And Chief Justice Moore – for whom the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State expressed hope that “perhaps [he] will soon leave the bench and move into the pulpit, which he seems better suited for” – stated that the other courts have not only defied the law, but they have defied God.

Perhaps Alabama did not learn from its previous experiments with exclusion, which started with slavery, but placing a monument to the Ten Commandments in the building with the state’s highest court is imposing a state mandated religion which belittles all religions which do not glorify the Ten Commandments. The presence of such a structure declares how unwelcome in Alabama are religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Druze, Islam, Animism and Shintoism, just to name a few.

In both of these scenarios, extremism has been the leading force. In the first case, a secular extremism has stripped religious freedoms in a country which would like to think that its human rights are superior to those of the rest of the planet. In the second case, a religious fanaticism has imposed a state religion in Alabama (which, go figure, is one of the only states not to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution).

In both France and the United States, there are fundamental laws of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. It seems that elements in both countries have unequivocally chosen to stray from their constitutions to exclude certain members of society because of who they are. Both France and the United States, which promote worldwide democratic and religious freedoms, should finally – pardon the term – practice what they preach.

Paul J. Kutner is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.