France’s Constitutional Council recently upheld the constitutionality of a law banning the wearing of veils in public places. The text of the decision is available in French here. Despite the importance of the issue and the large potential infringement on religious freedom, the opinion is very short and conclusory. For those of our readers who understand French, here is the key passage:
[L]e législateur a estimé que de telles pratiques peuvent constituer un danger pour la sécurité publique et méconnaissent les exigences minimales de la vie en société ; qu’il a également estimé que les femmes dissimulant leur visage, volontairement ou non, se trouvent placées dans une situation d’exclusion et d’infériorité manifestement incompatible avec les principes constitutionnels de liberté et d’égalité.
Roughly translated, this means that veils can be banned because the legislature has determined that they pose a “danger to public safety” and because wearing a veil, even “voluntarily,” puts women in a “condition of exclusion and inferiority manifestly incompatible with the constitutional principles of liberty and equality.”
Later in the opinion, the court concludes that, given the public interests served by the law, the punishment imposed on violators is not “manifestly disproportionate” and therefore it doesn’t violate the religious freedom guarantees in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man.
I am no expert on French constitutional law, so I have little to say about the legal correctness of the ruling. I should also note that the institution of judicial review is much weaker in France than in the US or in some European nations such as Germany. Thus, the court’s highly deferential posture and cursory dismissal of the religious freedom issues involved may well be a correct ruling under French law.
I will say, however, that if the decision is not mistaken, it is [...]