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
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
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).