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The concrete I have in mind is the French law 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010 banning public wearing of face-covering veils and burkhas. Is this law a violation of freedom of expression, or is it at all justifiable as a means of banning support for an enemy during a time of war?

Now, the law does not specifically mention Islam, and it applies to masks and hoods as well. However, the debates leading up to the passage of the law made it clear that it was being passed as a cultural and not a security measure. Moreover, one possible punishment for transgressors is required attendance at a "citizenship class" where values of the French Republic, such as secularism, are reinforced.

Also possibly relevant is that while the law applies to "public spaces," they are defined broadly enough to include some private property, such as shopping malls, theaters and restaurants.

asked Aug 25 '13 at 12:54

El%20Manantial's gravatar image

El Manantial
603


I do not see how merely covering one's face could be a violation of anyone else's individual rights or an initiation of physical force against others. Without such a context, absent any other threatening behavior, subjecting someone to physical force certainly would be a violation of his individual rights (his freedom of action) by Objectivist standards. A particularly telling observation in the question is the following:

[The French] law does not specifically mention Islam, and it applies to masks and hoods as well. However, the debates leading up to the passage of the law made it clear that it was being passed as a cultural and not a security measure. Moreover, one possible punishment for transgressors is required attendance at a "citizenship class" where values of the French Republic, such as secularism, are reinforced.

This indicates that the law in question is an anti-religion measure -- specifically, an anti-Islam measure. Using governmental force to suppress freedom of peaceful religious expression is a clear violation of freedom of religion, insofar as no security issues are involved, as they evidently aren't in this case. (The building of an Islamic mosque at Ground Zero is a different matter if a state of war with Islamic terrorists is properly recognized.)

Historically, there was another situation in the U.S. where some form of governmental intervention was (and is) essential. Many decades ago, prior to the rise of environmentalism and "green" power, there was a symbol of electric power production and availability known as "Reddy Kilowatt." The Wikipedia article on that topic describes the symbol as a stick figure of a human with lightning bolts for limbs "and whose bulbous head has a light bulb for a nose and wall outlets for ears." On one occasion, there was some kind of peaceful public parade or gathering at which one of the participants was costumed as Reddy Kilowatt, including covering of the head and face. R.K. got into trouble with the authorities for wearing a "mask" in public. The law in question was originally aimed at the Ku Klux Klan. The incident occurred in South Carolina. The local press thought it a bit unreasonable to treat Reddy Kilowatt as a possible KKK member.

Perhaps a more reasonable law against the KKK would involve specific behavior as well as the wearing of a mask, and the main crime would be the behavior (initiating actual physical force against others), not the wearing of the mask. The mask is, at most, an extenuating, confirming circumstance when combined with other threatening behavior. In the case of the KKK, the type of mask and the nature of the gathering would be highly relevant. Moreover, how can the law tell someone in freezing climates, for example, not to wear a full head covering to protect himself from the cold? And what good does it do to tell bank robbers not to wear masks when they are robbing banks? They'll just do it anyway, since armed robbery is a clear crime by itself, and the mask is merely incidental. Using a gun during the robbery is also a far more serious act than wearing a mask.

answered Aug 27 '13 at 01:01

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

Addressing one of your points, the law does make exceptions for items such as motorcycle helmets, surgical masks and carnival masks—reinforcing the argument that the real target of the law is Islamic veils. Also, the law provides for punishments for forcing someone to wear a face covering, but that issue is a separate one.

(Aug 28 '13 at 06:43) El Manantial El%20Manantial's gravatar image

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Asked: Aug 25 '13 at 12:54

Seen: 633 times

Last updated: Aug 28 '13 at 06:43