For those who are not yet aware, France is implementing a controversial new law to ban women and girls from wearing headscarves in public schools. And of course this is being taken as some kind of prejudice against the Muslim religion. (Everyone is out to get them, remember?)

Please don’t get me wrong here folks, particularly as this site has finally been indexed by Google and others…. I don’t give a frog’s leg what happens in France. I don’t give a garlic bulb what they enshrine in law – very little of it has ever interested me in the slightest. But the new law, regarding the “hijabs” and “burkas” that these ladies wear (as part of their adherence to the Islam religion), does raise two interesting questions regarding the role of government in this:

1) By WHAT authority does the French government seek to impose this restriction on these people?

2) Is there any concievable circumstance where it IS appropriate for a person or group of people to impose such rules?

Those who are familiar with my politics will know that, in response to Q1, any libertarian would answer that government has NO moral authority to impose a dress code on the citizens of its country, whether that be in the school, the workplace or whatever else. Leaving aside the point that schools should never have been ‘public’ in the first place (and that therefore the government would not be running any schools whose students they could impose rules on anyway); the premise that one bunch of people could FORCE (by physical means) another bunch of people not to wear a particular item of clothing, is not merely incomprehensible, but morally repugnant.

I believe in man’s full rights to private ownership. ALL OTHER MEANS of running society are based on systems of coercion, forceful imposition of personal freedom and eradication of civil rights – not to mention diminishing the human being’s natural ability to rationalise for himself. So to make it illegal for me to start a particular organisation to which I will invite only those who choose to co-operate by my rules (whatever they may be), would be wrong. If my rules involve a halt of the hijab or a ban on the burka, then they agree to abide by those rules in whatever organisation of mine they have chosen to join (eg. a school). But they could be equally free to join another where the rules are not such. Why not simply set the boundaries for the rules of all schools? Because it is not within the moral domain or power of a government or the purpose of law to do so.

So yet again, the libertarian principal of “Do as you like, as long as you do not breach the freedom of another individual to choose for themselves” provides the only moral answer – and in this case (as many others) the most practical answer also.

Each individual institution should decide for themselves whether to allow women to wear as they like, or whether to impose a dress code. Because there would be no restrictions on methods by which to educate each other, a variety of schools would abound. Because each student would be a customer of these schools, it is unlikely that there would ever be a situation where EVERY school would choose to ban Muslim women and girls from wearing their religious garments…. they represent a market by which the institutions would make their money.

But should a GOVERNMENT be able to forceably impose such a restriction?

NEVER. Its a simple matter of individual rights.

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net