Issues of the Separation of Church and State
from the View Point of French Anti Scarf Law
@February 25, 2004
Rev. Yoshinobu Miyake

On the 11th of December, the French presidential commission recommended to draft a legislation to ban to wear religious symbols at public schools and institutions, and President Jacque Chirac endorsed the proposals of the commission in his speech of the 17th of December. The result of opinion poll in France was 69% for the legislation and 29% against. The law was passed by the National Assembly on the 15th February 2004.

It is an ambiguous regulation. While rather visible large sized religious symbols such as Muslim hijab, Jewish yamluka and large cross are banned by the proposed law, smaller sized less noticeable symbols like necklaces, buttons, or the Jewish kippa are allowed to be worn. However, is it possible to stipulate which religious or political groups all over the world use what symbols? In this policy on size, it should not be a problem to wear the badge of Kim Joan-Il. It is also quite peculiar that a non Muslim woman is allowed to wear a scarf with the brand name of Hermes, even though it is the same type of scarf as a Muslim woman wears.

Conservative Jewish People
capped on Yamluka hat

Thus, the legislation, which for Japanese people seems to be unbelievable, is being established in France, and reasonably there have been daily protests against the proposed legislation among Muslim people nation wide. It is a folly for the French government to destroy the trust of Muslim countries which was built by opposing the USfs military action against Iraq. However, there is a more complicated factor related the issue of the separation of church and state in France.

About 10 years ago, the French government adopted the ganti-secth legislation and established the Commission of Inquiry on Sects, the sect watch organisation under the direct control of the presidency. It aims to crack down on religious communities, which do not apply any of 10 criteria (the criteria are based on the Christian point of view, so that many of Japanese religions do not conform to the criteria), in order to prevent anti-social behaviours by gcults.h

The French anti-sect law is also supported in EU countries like Germany. There is a group of impetuous solicitors, which promotes the anti-sect law in Japan (where the historical and religious background is totally different from Europe.). However, the real underlying danger is for governmental authority to be used to judge the quality of religious discipline, and the beliefs and practices of religious communities.

Some European countries do not allow broadcasting the TV films which are starred in by Tom Cruise, known as a zealous follower of Scientology, because TV is watched by the general public. It is not well known in Japan, but the last Samurai has been given extremely limited acclaim in Europe because of the prejudice against his personal faith. The film might be his strategy to make people acknowledge the values of different religions or cultures outside those of traditional Christianity.

The principle of the separation of religion and state, one of the important requirements for the modern democratic countries, does not mean gseparation of religion and politics,h but separation of Church and State, that is the separation of the governing institutions from any particular religious communities ( whom they may wish to support or oppress). The principle does not mean at all that states ignore religious traditions. One of the ruling coalition parties of Japan has a power base in a religious group, which used officially to slander other religions for the past many decades. Though the group does not profess the slander now, the media of the mature democratic society should keep an eye on whether the government of the ruling coalition is fair and impartial to the other different religious communities. It seems to me that the major media of the press club do not discharge their responsibility in this respect.

The Law Against Scarf or
the Law Against Muslim?

Meanwhile, it does not mean that religious groups should not interfere in politics. Rather it is preferable for each religious group to be involved in politics actively for realising the ideal society based on their religious teachings. Nevertheless, the separation of Church and State is the legal principle to regulate the actions of the governmental authority, but not the other way round.

Therefore, to me, the French law to ban headscarves is like putting the cart before the horse, namely the legislation intrinsically should ban any religious oppression or preference by public schools, but the reality of the legislation is discriminating against the religious behaviours of some students (especially Muslim girls wearing headscarves).