This is my commentary on other people's stuff -- particularly blogs of people I know. Every post title should be a link to the blog I'm commenting about.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Banning the Niqab/Burqa (full face veil)

Banning the Niqab/Burqa (full face veil)

Of course, having an exposed face for an ID photo implies that whoever's supposed to check your ID can insist you expose your face for them to do the check. Depending on the details, this could be more onerous than it sounds. Can the woman be refused service at a college cafeteria if she doesn't unveil to the person swiping meal cards?

I'm not seriously arguing against the idea here -- I think it's perfectly reasonable for legally required IDs to actually function - which means you can show the ID, and the viewer can confirm that you're the person who should have that ID.

But it occurs to me that it's not a terrifically unreasonable thing to accommodate. It's not overwhelmingly onerous to check identity by other means. For example, the ID card could have her signature, and an officer could ask her to sign something to compare with. Or the ID card could have her fingerprint. Or a retinal scan. Or a voiceprint.

You get my point -- it's not necessarily an unreasonable burden to accommodate someone's chosen public appearance. And religion totally aside, I rather feel like if I really want to walk around dressed like a masked super hero, I should be able to. Who's it harm?

Now, wearing something to obscure your appearance while committing a crime (to avoid getting caught) is a different thing (and I wouldn't get all up in arms if such an activity caused the crime to be viewed more harshly), but I think that's not a serious consideration in this particular case. (Unlike the Ku Klux Klan masks.)

I do like LTG's thought about which trumps which -- freedom of speech vs. freedom of religion. It's not ultra-clear to me that they conflict with each other so much, or at least not in a unique way. But perhaps that's because as a non-lawyer, I don't know what freedom of religion really implies beyond "you're free to conduct yourself as you (or your religion) dictate, so long as it doesn't impinge on anyone else's rights, such as their rights of expression, religion, property, etc." (I feel like this is something that law students must go over in some introductory constitutional law course.)

It therefore seems to me that most "freedom of religion" conflicts are between an individual or small group's practice (e.g. praying five times a day, smoking peyote, not saying the pledge of allegiance) and an institution's need for conformity. And the gist of freedom of religion is that, if the conformity isn't required to preserve the rights of society at large, the religious practicer wins. In other words, religious practices should be accommodated where possible, even when they're not yours and you don't understand them.

(Somewhat luckily, the establishment clause might be interpreted to defend lack of religion -- someone _not_ practicing a religion should be accommodated as well, in their "right not to practice religion", if you will. I am sympathetic to that right, and frustrated when a sort of ecumenical "we all worship the same god really, just in different ways" notion is invoked to demand _some_ religious expression from everyone, or excuse some suitably genericized institutional religion.)

Freedom of speech/expression seems to fall along much the same lines -- the right of the individual pressured to conform trumps the conveniences of social "harmony", excepting fundamental unravellings of society (e.g. libel, "Fire!" in a crowded theater).

So when might the two come in direct conflict? The only way I can come up with is an artificial notion of religious practice, like "my religion requires of me that I not expose myself to the utterances of women". I'm reasonably sure that such "rights of avoidance" don't hold up as a general principle (fundamentally, they are too much like "it's inconvenient for me to suffer the expression of others"), although I could be wrong. (And specific cases, like obscenity, seem to undermine my view.)

[I should add the caveat that the right to avoid things is often upheld on its own -- you're allowed to live like a hermit, be a conscientious objector, go to a private club that doesn't allow women, etc. But when that desire to avoid things comes into conflict with someone's desire to express that same thing _in a public forum_, the two parties conflict. That is the situation where the "right to avoid" loses to the right to express.]

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