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Freedom Of Religion ... To What Extent?

A couple of months ago, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion at a conference for corporate diversity officers, people who work in personnel and human resources and so on. The panel included two other consultants who work in that field. At one point, one of the consultants, a Muslim woman, asked us to close our eyes, and we did. And when we opened them she had added to her standard issue (forgive me) business attire a very large Muslim headscarf (it's actually a particular style called an Al Almira). If you are interested in the different styles of coverings here's a very nice primer from the BBC.

Anyway, she asked us how our opinion of her changed because of what she was wearing. It was a slightly uncomfortable moment. The thing of it is, we could still see her face.

But what if we could not?

That's the core of a very interesting conversation going on in France right now. President Nicholas Sarkozy has suggested that his government should ban the wearing of the Burka in public.

Now, set aside the administrative issues. How would you enforce this?

Arrest people?

Issue a ticket?

And the constitution (a differnt constitution than ours, but one that recognizes freedom of religion) what then does it MEAN? What does it feel like to those who are most affected?

We decided to ask two different Muslim women with two very different opinions. And one of the things they have a different opinion about is even whether the burqa is the same as Niquab, which covers the face (except for the eyes).

Here's a blog that discusses Niquab.

It is interesting to even contemplate that we would be discussing these matters. It's a French issue at the moement, but there was at least one case of a Muslim woman fighting to keep her face covered in a driver's license photo. She did not prevail.

Another sign of our changing times. What accommodations do we make to each other to practice our religion as we see fit, and yet maintain the core values of the community and nation?

Interesting we think.

And tomorrow, we have a special Independence Day treat for you.

Something for the head, heart soul ... and taste buds.

Check it out.