French legislators have tentatively moved forward to ban the burka in several public forums. To me, perhaps the most telling quote from the NY Times article is this:
“Those who oppose the veil call it a symbol of the repression of women, but many of those who wear it say that they do so voluntarily as an expression of their faith. Their backers say that a ban would deny Muslim women freedom of expression and stigmatize them.”
In particular, this topic raises several questions. How far will secularism go? Will the removal of all public icons of faith be ordered? What about expressions of faith in public? What is the role of religion in a secular state?
In the Islamic countries, there are several countries, like Turkey, which have a secular state. States, such as the US, are also nominally secular (separation of church and state), yet in fact America is among the most religious countries in the world. There are continuous battles in the US over “religious” issues, such as the placement of religious icons, gay marriage, and so forth.
Ultimately I believe the question rests on the balance between religious freedom and secularism. Can a state be both secular, yet support religious freedoms? I believe the answer is yes (and that the US, on the balance does a fair job of it). France must face this question, and from what I can tell, sooner rather than later.