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It is widely agreed that government must treat that dignity with equal respect.But what is it to treat people with equal respect, in areas touching on religious belief and observance? It can be stopped from becoming active, and it can even be violated or damaged within.In April 2011, a law took effect in France according to which it is illegal to cover the face in any public space, from parks to marketplaces to shops.Although the law does not mention the words "women," "Muslim," "burqa," or even "veil," it was introduced by then President Nicolas Sarkozy as a ban on Muslim veiling, which, according to him, "imprisons" women and threatens French values of dignity and equality.As it turns out, a long philosophical and legal tradition has reflected about similar matters.Let's start with an assumption that is widely shared: .
The state constitutions of that time made it clear that the commitment was to ample liberty, not just equal liberty: for they permitted only a few extremely urgent public considerations, particularly those of peace and safety, to trump the religious claim. And what limits might reasonably be placed upon religious activities in a pluralistic society, compatibly with that commitment?From now on I shall use only the term burqa.) Although France is the first country to enact a full ban on the burqa in public space, similar restrictions are being considered all over Europe, and many countries and regions have adopted some type of restriction.What does political philosophy have to say about all these developments?Creating exemptions to general laws on a case by case basis struck Scalia as too chaotic, and beyond the competence of the judiciary.Thus, though he thought that accommodations created by legislation would be permissible - such as the change in our Controlled Substances Act that legalized the sacramental use of peyote - he was opposed to granting such exemptions judicially.
But if a law is not persecutory in this way, it may stand, even though it may incidentally impose burdens on some religious activities more than on others.