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France Bans the Veil: What French Republicanism Has to Say about It
Boston University International Law Journal (2017)
  • Stéphane Mechoulan
In 2011, France banned the wearing of face-veils in public.  This criminalization of face covering was criticized by the U.S. State Department, prominent NGOs, and legal academics of the Anglo-liberal tradition as an improper violation of freedom of religion and expression.  Against this backdrop, the 2014 decision of the European Court of Human Rights upholding the ban provides a timely opportunity to better understand the republican rationale behind it.  Through reconsidering the competing conceptions of the common good produced by Anglo-liberalism and French republicanism I explore how the ban aims to preserve an organizing principle of the Rousseauist social contract.  Specifically, I investigate the legal concept of “immaterial public order” which operationalizes the political and philosophical foundations of that principle.  Teasing out how French republican values mesh with French identity, I expose the political threat that the practice of hiding one’s face triggers while questioning how far those values and cultural identity concerns may go in curbing fundamental freedoms.  Ultimately, as a friction point between competing rights, the face-veil ban invites us to analyze the political and historical tenets of human rights ideology and investigate whether their purported universality can accommodate substantive variations in their implementation.  This inquiry is all the more relevant as Western countries, now pluralist and secular, struggle to integrate an increasing number of individuals of foreign cultural and religious backgrounds.
  • face-veil,
  • republicanism,
  • liberalism,
  • Rousseau,
  • social contract,
  • France,
  • human rights,
  • identity,
  • sociability
Publication Date
Summer 2017
Citation Information
Stéphane Mechoulan. "France Bans the Veil: What French Republicanism Has to Say about It" Boston University International Law Journal Vol. 35 (2017) p. 223
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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC_BY International License.