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The Burqa and French Values

Western media have condemned France’s 2010 law banning face coverings and local decrees adopted this year banning the full-body “burkini” swimsuit. French-bashing in the press is nothing new, but those criticizing these measures ignore the historical and sociopolitical reasons underlying broad popular support for them.

PARIS – Many Western media outlets were highly critical of France’s 2010 law banning face coverings, such as burqas that cover a woman’s face and entire body, and local decrees adopted this year banning full-body “burkini” swimsuits on public beaches have drawn further negative attention. French-bashing in the press is nothing new, but those who criticize these measures ignore the historical and sociopolitical reasons for why most French people support them.

For starters, secularism – or laïcité – is a defining principle of French society. Under the French Constitution – which upholds freedom of conscience as well as freedom of speech – all citizens may choose any religion, or none at all; alternatively, they may criticize and mock religious beliefs and customs.

In 2004, the French Constitutional Council deemed the French Constitution to be compliant with the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. In order “to reconcile the principle of freedom of religion and that of secularism,” the Council ruled, “the Constitution forbids “persons to profess religious beliefs for the purpose of noncompliance with the common rules governing relations between public communities and private individuals.”

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