Whenever I see people limit themselves in what they can wear or what they can eat or do because of their religious beliefs, it bothers me as a sign of the hold that religions have on people but I would not seek to prevent them from acting in that way. Hence the new French laws that bans women from wearing the ‘burkini’, a full-body swimsuit garment as seen in this photo that covers them up when they are at the beach, seems to me to be wrong.
Authorities in several French towns have implemented bans on the Burkini, which covers the body and head, citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country.
The images of police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais, the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack.
After they arrive, she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, although one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.
The photographs emerged as a mother of two also told on Tuesday how she had been fined on the beach in nearby Cannes wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.
Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.
Societies have long claimed the right to determine what people can wear and do in public and so drawing the line on what can and cannot be done is not easy. But in general, rules that are based on secular reasons and applied neutrally are more defensible than those that are based on religion or gender. So for example, we have had women in parts of the US successfully challenging laws that allow men to not wear clothes above the waist but do not allow women to do so.
It was not that long ago when women were criticized for wearing clothing that was too skimpy at the beach. Mark Frauenfelder provides us with a short history of this issue of what women can and cannot wear.
The French law appears to be religion-based and it is as problematic for the state to order women to be uncovered as it is for some Muslim-majority countries to order women to be more covered up than men. I assume that a Roman Catholic nun wearing her habit during a day at the beach will not be ordered to either disrobe or depart. I also assume that someone who was highly prone to skin cancer and thus covered up completely at the beach would not be ordered to remove their outer garments.