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Tennessee School Allows Muslim Headscarves

I saw this in this news and thought I'd use it as a timely illustration of the current topic under discussion, Why We Ought to Do Away With the Free Exercise Clause.

from Tenn. School Allows Muslim Headscarves:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A public high school changed its dress code to allow religious headscarves after a national civil rights group for Muslims complained to the principal on behalf of a student.

...

The letter said religious headscarves are protected by the Constitution and laws against discrimination in a public school.

Rick Smith, an assistant superintendent for Hamilton County schools, said the school had banned all head wear, but the principal agreed to allow Emily Smith's hijab after attorneys were consulted.

"This particular item was a little different because it is a religious garment," Rick Smith said.


This is what I'm talking about in Official Recognition and Special Rights. The no-headgear school policy isn't exactly a law, but it came about because of various laws allowing administrations at public schools the power the make rules regarding student attire.

Like most public schools, this one didn't allow headwear. Not for anyone, regardless of religion. There was no intention to infringe on anyone's religious practices - but it so happened that the version of Islam practiced by the girl in question required her to wear a hijab. This is an example of laws/rules generally considered to be acceptable that happen (accidentally) to interfere with the practice of some people's religion.

There are a variety of ways a rule or law might interfere. Some laws might compel a person to do something directly against their religious beliefs (or face punishment for refusing). Others might prohibit a person from carrying out either a mandatory or an optional religious practice.

So we are left in the position of having some rules and laws (some of which, at least, we can assume are justified) that conflict with the "free exercise" right if we consider it a fundamental right - that is, one from which other rights (wearing a hajib to public school for example) are derived.

I'm getting ahead of the order of discussion a bit here, but when situations like this arise, I think there should be one of two outcomes: (1) We realize that the law or rule was either wholly or partially unjustified to begin with, then change or eliminate it, or (2) if the rule or law is wholly justified, no religious excemptions should be made.


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