Can’t we all just get along? Europe is a diverse continent which has always hosted a panoply of different religious (and non-religious) beliefs and attitudes. But our shared history is also marred by efforts – from the Crusades against “infidels” and “heretics”, to the European wars of religion in the 17th Century, to the Holocaust in the 20th – to suppress or exterminate one religious group or another.
In France, the solution has been to impose a strict separation between church and state. In 2010, France became the first country in Europe to ban the full Muslim veil in public spaces. France has also seen legal wranglings over Christian symbols in public places, such as in 2016 when courts ordered a town in eastern France to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary from a public park. Is the solution just to keep religion private? During the 2017 election campaign, the candidate for the anti-immigration Front National, Marine Le Pen, proposed a complete ban on all religious symbols in public places.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Raluca, arguing that “All religious symbols should be prohibited in public”. This is obviously a provocative suggestion, and one unlikely to find much popular support. However, what if we take “public” to mean “state-operated institutions” such as schools, hospitals, government buildings, etc.? That is not so different from the position taken by the French government, which strictly enforces secularism and laïcité.
Should religious symbols be banned in public places? We asked Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from all sides of the political spectrum to stake out their positions on this question, and it’s up to YOU to vote for the policies you favour. See what the different MEPs have to say, then vote at the bottom of this debate for the one you most agree with! Take part in the vote below and tell us who you support in the European Parliament!
Well, I think that religious symbols can be a source of comfort to people of different political faiths. I don’t believe that it is necessary to ban them in public, but I do believe that religion should be left to the theologians, and legislators should develop law. And there needs to be a separation of powers between church and state, and that includes the role and influence of religious institutions. I differentiate between religious institutions, and the religious symbols which some people will wear with pride to express who they are and what they believe in.
I do not believe so. I think it’s different if there is a negative impact on other people, but to simply demonstrate which religion you are must fall under the right of free speech. And I have zero problem with a Muslim female teacher wearing a headscarf if she is prepared to do the work in the classroom across the board. We must both be able to demonstrate our own religious beliefs as well as accepting also the religions of others.
I would say that I believe there is a great difference between the symbols of different religions. Whereas in Christianity we have a very tolerant approach to dealing with our symbols – we don’t have the same feelings, for instance, depicting our gods as you might have in Islam. Therefore, there is a difference in approach. The burka gives a very different symbol than wearing the traditional Christian cross. So, my personal view is that it’s the Muslim symbols that contain a political consideration and therefore creates the major problem. But I would certainly refrain in any way from deciding what sort of regulation there should be in any other country but my own. I think this is a matter entirely up to the Member States to decide.
Ostentatious religious signs must be banned in public services whenever necessary to enable them to function smoothly: this should be the case, in particular, for hospitals and universities. This is already the case, since a 2004 law, in public schools, middle schools and high schools. On the other hand, religious symbols (such as Christmas crèches) should be allowed in public places when they correspond to a tradition.
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