Religious Freedom Experts Confront Bans on Religious Expression

IRLA Experts meeting in Spain

Sigüenza, Spain… Highly-controversial bans on religious expression, such as the French government's outlawing of the Islamic headscarf in public schools and a recent court judgment on a Turkish government headscarf prohibition, have brought a detailed response and analysis by religious freedom experts this week.

The Board of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) meeting in Sigüenza, Spain, November 12 to 16, took issue with the blanket ban on the wearing or display of religious symbols in state schools.
"While states clearly have the right to ensure a good educational environment for learning, we consider this ban on religious expression as extreme and a violation of an individual's religious freedom," said John Graz, secretary general of the IRLA.

In a document entitled "Guiding Principles Regarding Student Rights to Wear or Display Religious Symbols," the IRLA experts spell out specific concerns, commenting that "It is not the role of the state to decide to interpret the significance of a religious symbol for an individual or a community."

"The right to manifest belief is a vital part of religious freedom as defined by the normative international documents, and this includes the right to manifest belief by wearing and displaying religious symbols and clothing," they further conclude.

Recommendations include respecting the rights of students and parents, the seeking of solutions on a case-by-case basis, and that "Legislation establishing a total ban on the wearing of religious symbols in public educational settings should be avoided because it tends to be unnecessarily insensitive to those acting on sincere religious beliefs and often does more to inflame than reduce social tensions." [Jonathan Gallagher/IRLA News]