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Burqa Ban, Freedom of Religion and ‘Living Together’


In the summer of 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the French 2010 law banning face-covering clothing in public spaces, the so-called burqa ban, did not violate the right to freedom of religion. Due to the ‘wide margin of appreciation’, the Court deemed the ban proportionate to the French state’s legitimate aim with the ban of preserving the conditions of ‘living together’. The paper analyses and provides an internal criticism of the Court’s justification for this judgement focusing on the aim of living together and the right to freedom of religion. The Court’s justification presupposes that (a) there is a justification for the ban in terms of the aim of living together, (b) this is a legitimate aim and (c) the ban is a proportional means of pursuing this aim. The paper analyses the Court’s justification and argues that it fails to substantiate all three conditions.

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  1. The judgment (European Court of Human Rights 2014) will henceforth be referred to as “ECtHR”.

  2. Such metaphysical claims will be inadmissible as part of justifications for political coercion according to any form of political liberalism, i.e. the view that all exercises of political power has to be justifiable in ways understandable and acceptable to all reasonable citizens (e.g. Rawls 1993). The constraints on public reason imposed by political liberalism are of course themselves disputed, so nothing in the present argument hinges on acceptance of political liberalism.


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Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the CONCEPT conference, ‘Republicanism and Secularism’, University of Nottingham, 15–16 December 2014, and in the Criminal Justice Ethics research group at Roskilde University. Thanks for comments from Cécile Laborde, Michael Freeden, Ronan McCrea, Geoff Cupit, Mark Wenman, Jesper Ryberg, Thomas Søbirk Petersen, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Rune Klingenberg Hansen, Frej Klem Thomsen and Fatima Sabir.

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Correspondence to Sune Lægaard.

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Lægaard, S. Burqa Ban, Freedom of Religion and ‘Living Together’. Hum Rights Rev 16, 203–219 (2015).

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  • Human rights
  • European Court of Human Rights
  • Freedom of religion
  • Burqa
  • Margin of appreciation