Liberté, égalité, fraternité

French authorities continue to trample on religious freedom

French police have forced a sunbathing woman to strip on a Nice beach following a recent ban on the burkini, a swimsuit designed in accord with Islamic traditions of modest dress.

According to international news agency Agence France-Press (AFP), the woman was ticketed for not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.

Burkini Police

The “burkini” ban was introduced earlier this month by right-wing Republican Party mayor of Cannes David Lisnard over the garb’s alleged link to radical Islamism.

In statements to the press, Lisnard defended the police action, saying all “beach dress that ostentatiously shows a religious affiliation” was unwelcome at a time when France was a target for ISIS.

He said any dress that might be linked with the terrorist group was offensive and risked provoking people, so risking public order.

Cannes Mayor David Lisnard

It’s not the first time French authorities have trampled on citizens’ religious and free speech rights in the name of public order.

In 2010, the Senate of France passed a law “prohibiting concealment of the face in public space.” The following year, French police arrested two veiled demonstrators outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, just hours after the law came into force.

Kenza Drider is led away by police officers after being arrested for wearing a burka outside Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral on the day that the ban became law

Following the Paris attacks in January last year, French police arrested 54 people in a nationwide crackdown on “hate speech, anti-Semitism” and statements “glorifying terrorism.” 

Two months later, French comedian Dieudonné was found guilty by a Paris court of “apologising for terrorism” after he identified himself on Facebook as “Charlie Coulibaly” – a combination of “Charlie Hebdo” and “Amedy Coulibaly” – for which he received a two-month suspended sentence.

In November, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that freedom of speech does not protect “racist and anti-Semitic performances.” That same month, a Belgian court handed Dieudonné a two-month prison sentence for offensive remarks he made during a show in Liège in 2012.

French comedian Dieudonné gestures the Quenelle, which government officials in France have interpreted as an inverted Nazi salute

The latest incident comes a month after 31-year-old Tunisian man Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a cargo lorry into a crowd of people during Bastille Day celebrations at the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, killing 86.

Rhetorical question: Is there a principled difference between a terrorist who murders in the name of his religion and an armed policeman who forces a woman to strip in the name of public order?

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