Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Religious Liberty at Risk: Islam in Europe

I have been watching for some time the move in Europe to limit religious liberty for the sake of, well, liberty. At least that’s what they’re saying in Europe: limit liberty for the sake of liberty. Hmmm.

minaret-swiss-5.jpgMy attention was gripped last year when Switzerland voted in a national referendum to modify the Swiss Constitution to ban the building of minarets on buildings. Existing minarets in four Swiss cities would not be affected. But no new minarets could be constructed. Those who supported the ban argued that the minaret, though usually found on Islam mosques, was not an essential part of Islam, and thus there was no issue of religious freedom. But supporters certainly used fear of Muslims as a powerful weapon in their effort to pass the referendum. In spite of the fact that the Swiss government and most religious bodies opposed it, the referendum passed with 57.5% of voters approving. (Photo: A minaret on a mosque of a Turkish cultural association in Wangen bei Olten.)


Increasingly, the watershed issue in Europe has to do, not with mosques, but with burqas and niqabs, garments worn by some Muslim women that mostly or completely hide their faces. (Burqas completely cover faces; niqabs cover all the but eyes.) A recent USA Today article announces: “Burqa bans grow fashionable in Europe.” Here are some of the facts:

• In April 2010, a bill to make it a crime to wear a face covering passed unamimously in the lower house of the Belgium parliament. It is likely to become law soon.

• In May 2010, the French cabinet approved a ban on face-covering veils worn in public. If the National Assembly votes positively, it will be a crime for a woman to wear a burqa or niqab. The penalty will be a fine of $186 and required attendance in a citizenship class (!).


• According to USA Today, “Lawmakers in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands voice support for
banning veils but have been held back by . . . legal concerns.”

muslim-woman-chador-london-5.jpgWhy is Europe moving to ban the wearing of face-coverings by Muslim women, many of whom have chosen to do this as an expression of their faith in Allah? One stated concern is security. Police need to be able to identify people in public, explains a co-author of the law in Belgium. (Photo: I took this picture in Hyde Park, London, in 2007. The woman is not wearing a face-covering, but rather a chador that covers her body completely but not her face. I did see several burqa-wearing women in Hyde Park, but was not able to photograph them.)


But motivation for banning face coverings is motivated by more than worries about security. Here are some quotations from the USA Today story by supporters of the bans:

“It is really dangerous for our values in Europe,” [a Belgian lawmaker] says.

“There are extremist gurus out there and we must stop their influence
and barbaric ideologies,” says Communist Party lawmaker André Gerin.
“Covering one’s face undermines one’s identity, a woman’s femininity
and gender equality.”

France banned all religious symbols, including large crosses and head
scarves, from public classrooms and buildings in 2004. The draft law
states that the French republic’s founding values of liberty, equality
and fraternity are at stake — that a face covering undermines a woman’s
liberty by keeping her separate from society, violates fraternity by
excluding others because it hides her face, and undermines gender
equality by keeping women in an unequal position.


So, it seems, that many would argue in favor of a limitation on religious liberty on the basis of the need for liberty.

Many religious leaders, including many Christians, have spoken out against the face-covering bans. Not only are these leaders concerned about the denial of religious liberty for Muslim women, but also they are reading the handwriting on the wall. If the state can, in the guise of a commitment to liberty, limit expressions of religious liberty, then Christians are surely next in line for legal limitations.

Lest we in the United States think we are immune from this sort of limitation, a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a chilling reminder that our religious freedom cannot be taken for granted. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.  

  • Kozak

    OK, here we go again. First of all, Islam is not like other religions. It is unique in being a totalitarian ideology with religious overlay. It uniquely seeks to set up a temporal empire with a law code that oppresses all other religions. Limiting religiously motivated dress codes is trivial, akin to restricting Sikhs’ carrying ceremonial daggers onto airplanes. State interests often trump such considerations. One can still fully practice Islam without a burka.
    Furthermore, looking at the totality of the picture, Muslims in Europe actually occupy a privileged position, especially with regard to criticism, for their religion is uniquely protected from it.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Kozak: I’m curious, given our history of religious liberty in this country, do you also think we should ban the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public by Muslim women who want to do this as an expression of their religion?

  • Dagaz

    Mark, Kozak is right about this. Veils are a political statement and a security threat. And furthermore, most Muslims, when you ask why they wear hijab, will tell you it is NOT a requirement of Islam but a cultural practice. To turn around and whine about a supposed violation of their religious liberty when they have denied that it is a religious practice is not just hypocrisy, but outright dishonesty.
    Keep in mind, too, that Westerners visiting or living in Muslim countries are not free to wear the same clothes they would wear in their home countries. They are expected to conform to local requirements, and there is no exception made for religious convictions. Why do we accept this as reasonable yet deny ourselves the same right to determine what is acceptable dress in our own societies?
    It’s simply absurd to argue that we do not have the right to set standards in our own Western countries. We have a way of life here, we have a right to preserve that way of life, and foreigners coming to our countries have the same obligation to conform to our norms that we have when in their countries.

  • Pat

    Reminds me of the intolerant video entitled, “Muslim Demographics” that one of our former pastors showed in church on a Sunday morning to bolster his sermon the family. Sickening….

  • Ann Hilliard

    Dr. Roberts, please do not overlook that under sharia law, women do not have the option to choose whether or not to wear the burqa or nijab. Women who do not cover themselves completely may be physically assaulted by observant Muslim men who believe they should dress according to sharia standards. By outlawing veils, Western governments are protecting Muslim women within Western countries from the oppression they would otherwise experience at the hands of radical Islamist men. The case of the nighttime fire at a Saudi boarding school a few years ago, in which a number of Saudi girls died when the doors were barred by religious police preventing them from fleeing outside in their nightgowns, illustrates how such beliefs can trump even human life in other cultures.

  • Joe M.

    A lack of understanding and perspective is common in the media, and even the Church today. There is real religious discrimination going on today, well beyond minarets and burkas. Says Chuck Colson:
    “Why did the U.S. media breathlessly report the Swiss banning of minarets, but stayed largely mum on the murder of Egyptian Christians? This past weekend, an estimated 1,000 Coptic Christians gathered in Los Angeles to protest the killings of fellow Copts in Egypt a few days earlier. According to one protester, “there is no protection for Christians in Egypt.
    “Judging by the coverage, the media isn’t helping matters.
    “The events that triggered the protests took place on the Coptic Christmas. A gunman opened fire on a crowd of worshipers leaving midnight mass in the ancient city of Nag Hammadi. Seven Copts were killed, most instantly. At least another six were wounded.
    “Those who are familiar with the plight of Egyptian Christians know that violence and repression are part and parcel of their lives. In 2006, five Copts were stabbed, one fatally, while leaving Good Friday services in Alexandria. This was part of a larger assault against Christians at four different churches that left several Coptic Christians dead and at least 17 wounded.
    “At the same time the media convulsed over the Swiss ban on minarets, the Malaysian government banned and seized Bibles. Why? Because they used the word “Allah,” which is Malay for “God.”
    “It didn’t stop there. The Malaysian government banned Catholic newspapers from using the word as well. The government position was that only Muslims could use the word. After Malaysia’s high court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional, Muslim extremists took a more-direct approach: They started setting churches on fire.”
    It’s a bit hard to get worked up over Minarets and hijabs when real religious oppression and violence faces Christians daily, much of it at the hands of Islam.

  • Tom

    I am confused. What did you find “sickening” in the showing of the video entitled “Muslim Demographics”? Was it that your pastor took advantage of the information in the said video to drive home the fact that the age-old notion of “the family” in the Europe is inexorably in demise? or the fact that the Muslim immigrant population are are growing by leaps and bounds, so much so that it is now inevitable that some (or most)of these European nations that were once bastions of Christendom, then secular freedoms, will eventually become Islamic caliphates only a few decades from now? or even worse, you as a Christian don’t really care if “Allah’s tyrannical Shariah law” is imposed throughout Europe, and eventually the world?
    Islam is unlike any other religion the world has ever seen, in that, its message is to annihilate all belief systems in favor of Allah’s religion.
    [2.193] And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, etc.
    [61.9] He it is Who sent His Apostle with the guidance and the true religion, that He may make it overcome the religions, all of them, though the polytheists may be averse.

  • Kozak

    At this point, no I don’t wish to ban them here. Yet. But, I would definitely make them take ID pictures with faces visible. And I would allow businesses to ban them, as there have been cases of men using burkas as disguises during bank robberies.

  • Ichabod

    As is common with most men, especially those in the throes of puberty, we can, at times, get erections at the slightest provocation.
    I wonder if Muslims men growing up in shame based cultures, wearing garments that could be revealing in those moments, strike women to create a distraction in their minds and either escape ridicule or “cleanse” themselves of sintiments of being impure in their faith.
    This, of course, would lead to tighter and tighter restrictions on how revealing women’s garments can be.

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