The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today responded to the recent debate on the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs in public, which was sparked by the decision of several French local authorities to ban the wearing of ‘beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation’. These laws were passed in the wake of several attacks on France by Islamist militants.
In the past few weeks, a number of local authorities in France decided to ban the ‘burkini’ citing a number of reasons, including ‘hygiene’, ‘public order’ and ‘French laws on secularism’ and not wearing ‘an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’. The highest administrative court in France this afternoon has suspended the bans, stating that they ‘clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms’, including the human right to freedom of religion or belief.
Writing in the Independent today, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson has argued that forcing of women out of their chosen clothes in public was not compatible with the freedom of choice that secularism is meant to protect. Elsewhere in his piece, Andrew argued that the present debate in France was not really about secularism at all, but instead about electoral politics and anti-Muslim sentiment.
‘As someone who works full-time to promote political secularism (in France, “laïcité”) in the UK and internationally, to see what is now happening in France defended in these terms is deeply troubling,’ said Andrew.
‘Women should be free to wear bikinis in Iran and Saudi Arabia and burkinis in Europe. Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t even pretend to be free countries, but France especially – where the modern idea of secularism was forged – has a duty to be exemplary in its approach.’
The BHA has hailed the judgment today as a victory for France’s secularist ideals. ‘This is a victory for the right kind of secularism and also for human rights and freedom in France,’ said Andrew Copson in a statement following the decision by the French courts.
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The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.