Fashion meets Constitution Law on this intriguing topic. You can see how fashion interweaves with almost all areas of the law. This gets interesting. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The “Free Exercise” part of that is a clause of its own that essentially says, “hey government! You can’t punish people based on their religious belief.” These clauses of the First Amendment apply, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to all states.
Are there instances where the government can essentially “punish” i.e. deny benefits or impose burdens on people who exercise their religious faith? Yes. In such situation, the government must show it has to engage in such activity ONLY IF it is necessary to a compelling interest. How often do the courts typically find “compelling interest”? Rarely.
So, picture this. A muslim woman walks into an American courtroom wearing her Niqabs, the cloth that covers her entire face so that all you see are the eyes. She is a witness in a trial. Should she be made to remove her Niqab?
Courts in the USA of late have said “yes.” I am not particularly surprised. Obviously with the real fear from 911 and a seemingly aloof muslim community in the USA, it is easy to see how courts would rule in favor of having the muslim woman remove her Niqab.
In Canada, the courts there say, “hmmm . . . you should probably do a balancing test.”
You can read the story on WSJ Law Blog.
On another note, I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and saw a lot of muslim women in black Niqabs. As a young child I was, honestly, very frightened. I ran as fast as my legs could take me when I came across a woman in Niqab. As I became an adult, I made it a point to ask Muslims I came across as well as purchase books/CDs to learn more about the religion so I could understand who these women were and why they wore Niqabs. Needless to say,I am no longer afraid.
Watch and hear the debate below on Niqabs & Hijabs