Hijab: Freedom from Public Education


On my way back from Paris today on the plane, I was reading story in Spanish newspaper ABC about how an elementary school in Girona (Catalunya, Spain) had wanted to prohibit an eight year old Muslim girl of Moroccan origin from attending class wearing the hijab (or head scarf). Because there is no legislation on students wearing religious symbols to school, the courts have allowed the girl to continue wearing the hijab. But the debate on prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing head scarves to public schools continues.

A similar debate in France a few years back ended in legislation that prohibited all public school students from wearing any religious attire or symbols. I was against that law then and I am also against any similar prohibitions in Spain. The whole debate is not only xenophobic, it is also counter productive and extremist.

According to the ABC, the following Spanish politicians had these absurd things to say about the young Muslim girl’s plight:

Our new civics course curriculum will serve as a useful way to teach these Muslim girls why they should remove the veil. Pedro Zerolo, Secretary of Social Services, Partido Socialista Español.

We do not agree with the veil; it is as if Catholic boys were required to dress as Nazarines. José Campos, Secretary of Educación, Comisiones Obreras (a worker’s union party).

People who come to this country should know that we have rules. Today it is the veil, tomorrow they’ll want something else. Daniel Serra, President of the Partido Popular of Catalunya.

We have to establish the ground rules for immigrants so we don’t lose our own culture. Durán Lleida, Spokesman for Convergencia i Unió in Congress.

I have never experienced such hate speech from elected officials, some of them that consider themselves liberals and pro-human rights. I almost don’t even know where to begin, but I will try.

The U.S. is a different than Europe on these matters. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government may not promote or prohibit religion. Thus, public schools may not teach religion, co-mingle with religion, but they cannot prohibit the religious identity of students. Growing up in a multi-cultural suburb of Washington, DC, we had Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Buddhists. There were never any tensions between the students on religious grounds no matter whether they wore kippahs, turbans or crosses around their necks.

To say that a Muslim girl cannot wear a hijab or a Sikh boy must cut his hair basically puts those children’s families in a difficult position: either reject your religion or forgo public education. Fine, there are plenty out there who will argue, if you don’t like it, don’t come to my country. But, what if you are already a citizen? Doesn’t the Constitution grant us the right to practice the religion of our choice?

The Spanish answer to that last question is that the law should prohibit at least the hijab because it discriminates against women. Yes, but would they also prohibit the Sikh boy from wearing a turban to cover his locks because females do not have to? And if the Spanish politicians are so concerned with the equal rights of Muslim girls, why don’t they first stop and analyze their own Catholic Church.

Yes, that’s right. Under the Spanish Constitution, public schools have the obligation to offer Catholic education to all willing students. And how much less discriminatory is the Catholic Church towards women? Women cannot become priests and they do not qualify for Popedom either. Nuns dress in their own style of veils and have absolutely no vote or say in Church politics. Maybe Spanish public schools should teach their females students about how they will never have a role in Church decision-making.

Here are a few other interesting points that these politicans should keep in mind:

  • The hiyab is a scarf, not a veil. A veil covers one’s face. Let’s not lose sight here, please, or get all hysterical.
  • In Spain, many public schools are “colegios concertados” meaning that they are private schools that act as “public schools” under government contract, and many of these are taught by priests or nuns. Under the politicians’ logic, nuns should be prohibited from teaching in as they are veiled.
  • As you can see from the photo of ReWrite from last December when we were in Marrakech, Morocco, not all Moroccan girls (the country of origin of the Girona student) wear the veil to school. Some do, some do not. It is question left to the child and to her parents. As a matter of fact, wearing it or not wearing it is a non issue in Morocco, so why is it such an issue in Spain?
  • In France, the affect has been segration. Conservative parents send their kids to religous private schools. This does not lead to integration, but rather has the opposite affect. Kids want to integrate. Forcing them out of schools or to feel like their culture/religion has no place in society does not help. Ironically, Girona has a strong Jewish and Muslim past. Let’s not talk about the past, though, let’s just keep kippahs and hiyabs out of the picture.

Prohibiting religious attire basically says that everyone has to look and act just exactly a like, and what is acceptable is what is Spanish and nothing else. But what happens when a teenager wants to wear dred locks? Or grow a beard? Or have long hair. Should we move to uniforms for public schools? Or should we say that everyone has to convert to Catholicism and give the same answers on essays in order to be allowed to stay in public schools? The next thing you know, they are going to prohibit the children of Latin American immigrants from speaking with a South American accent — oh, that’s right, in Catalunya they already do that, it’s called Catalán language only education.



Filed under Essays, Living la vida española

9 responses to “Hijab: Freedom from Public Education

  1. Hate speech? Hardly.

    For once, it appears political individuals are actually engaging some pragmatics.

    People who come to this country should know that we have rules. Today it is the veil, tomorrow they’ll want something else. Daniel Serra, President of the Partido Popular of Catalunya.

    Oh, lookie, lookie!!! Mmmmmmm, say it with my cugino, “social contract”. What is being said is correct: if you choose to immigrate to another country, and become resident/citizen, you accept the terms of their interpretation of the social contract with regards to their bound country.

    In my son’s high school, no one is allowed to wear any head ware of any kind; except the Muslim females with hijab or burka. There’s a word for that sort of hypocrisy, but my father forbids me.

    I applaud them for standing their ground: rules applied unilaterally, so that everyone plays on the same field without pretenses. This is what our younger kind, our progeny, need to learn; rules do apply.

    Hypocrisy reeks of [insert forbidden expletive string here], and the only thing it teaches is not tolerance, but the weaknesses of appeasement, mendacity, and unfounded bias in favor of those who would not follow the rules, as others are made to do.

    Your post is completely baseless, my apologies for the harshness.

  2. eric

    The rule is, at least in the U.S., freedom of religion: so if everyone is held to the same standards, then I suppose the immigrants and their children who are now citizens have the right to that same freedom of religion.

    The problem with Europe is that no one is sure what it means to be European other than born in Europe and eaten the European food. So they don’t have a way of saying “follow our rules” because their rules are to be European. In the U.S., at least theoretically, we have a hypothetical (even hypocritical) American way that even immigrants can buy into.

    I can imagine the logic of the European anti-Muslim legislation to eventually say that to be Spanish or French or whatever, you also have to eat the same breakfast, lunch and dinner as the King or Mitterand.

  3. eric

    Keeping every thing foreign at arms length doesn’t make you stronger, it makes you weaker. A hell of a lot weaker.

    It’s the weak who are the most afraid of the weak. Protectionist and anti-immigration policies do nothing more than promote domestic weakness; they are in almost every sense another form of welfare.

  4. The rule is, at least in the U.S., freedom of religion: so if everyone is held to the same standards, then I suppose the immigrants and their children who are now citizens have the right to that same freedom of religion.

    Ah yes, if only that were the facts of the matter. Interesting how quickly a subjective opinion comes to be shown erroneous:

    In Fairmont High School, religious paraphernalia is not allowed, but hijab and burka are … care to try again? It’s called hypocrisy, and no manner of linguistic device changes observable reality.

    There is a movement in America to destroy not only Judaic/Christian belief, but their systems of faith as well. All the while, allowing for paganism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other system in the name of “tolerance”, read more correctly as social appeasement.

    It’s the weak who are the most afraid of the weak. Protectionist and anti-immigration policies do nothing more than promote domestic weakness; they are in almost every sense another form of welfare.

    Weakness is a descriptor of power assessment/usage, and therein, the lie is revealed, the duplicities of the state brought to full light.

    Simply brushing aside what is established to suit those with grievance, is the most weak position of all, cowardice.

    There are no rights, unless you can defend them. Power liberates, violently so. Anything else is a construct of the fearful, the weak, the promoters of tolerance and intellectual apathy.

    Taking in everything foreign, as a default condition, dilutes unilaterally, helping weakness spread like a pathogenic disease.

    There is more to being European than where one is born. I think your desire to be other than you are, ineffably clouds your discernment.

  5. eric


    I am not familiar with Fairmont’s policies, but if in fact your kids suffer an injury from not being able to wear religious symbols (while other can) than you should sue the school system. That is how we make sure that the Constitution is upheld. But on from the sound of it (and I don’t know the rules), the rules do not appear to violate the constitution as long as all students who, due to their religious beliefs, are required to wear certain attire may sport them.

    So if Muslim girls can wear hijabs but Jews boy cannot wear kippahs or Sikh boys must cut their hair, then you have a constitutional problem. Christians don’t have required religious attire, so comparison really doesn’t work. I suppose the rules are to avoid kids wearing gang symbols. But, like I said, if your kids suffer from not wearing crosses, then sue.

    I won’t get into the weakness argument because I don’t see how our two positions differ.

    Come to Europe for a while and see how open they are to anything that is NOT homebred.

  6. There are some precursory necessities of information that need to be addressed.

    With regards to Spain, and I am not well versed on their form of government, is there an existent constitution or governmental charter that recognises protection of all religions?

    If so, are there any exceptions to those protections, listed as part of the fundamental government documents?

    Is Spain considered a “religious state” or a “secular state”?

    How is the education system there funded? Private tuitions or socialised education from forcible taxation?

    With regards to America, there are some key phrases you seem to be obviating, either willfully or through unintended omission. Those being “separation of church and state” and “secular government”.

    As a matter of Constitutionality, public education in America is funded by the individual states, with subsidisation from the federal government. Any public education facility is thereby a default “secular environment”. There should be no contention on these matters. As such, any/all religious items engendering particular affliations, are summarily unConstitutional by default.

    If this is not going to be adhered to, which I will not contend with, as it has unilaterally never been so, there come into play another set of factors.

    Religion, under proposition, is indistinguishable from culture. Both are emergent properties of social contract and linguistics, directly. As such, hijab/burkah are equivalent to say, well let’s take an obvious example, an American baseball cap.

    Fairmont’s rule: No student is allowed to wear any type of hat or headware, except on certain occasions as approved by faculty and administration for “spirit days”.

    I notice no mention of religious identification in that statement. Summarily, hijab/burka is out. It is headware, period. Quitin, being a mixed child, does have authentic black heritage. If he were to wear a Black Panther’s beret to school, he would be made to either remove said headware, or face suspension. Like a hijab/burka, the BP beret is a special identifier of a uniquely black cultural heritage, and logically, as previously explained, no different from any religious identifier.

    It’s called hypocrisy predicated upon appeasement, and it well, [insert enormous string of forbidden expletives here].

    I realise you don’t understand the weakness argument, and I really don’t feel like taking up three pages to explain it. Suffice it to say, genetic impetus and any past tense emergent properties of such, find your position untenable.

  7. eric


    You got the US Constitution wrong. It is a secular state, yes, and as such it cannot promote or prohibit religious practice. Read up on the First Amendement. Teachers organizing in-class school prayer is promoting religion and as such is prohbited. Stopping an individual student from wearing a kippah is prohibiting the free practice of religion and is unconstitutional. This stuff is pretty basic constitutional law.

    Spain wants to be a secular state but it has such a long history of being a religious state that its public educational infrastructure is still run in many places by the Church.

    If you really believe that wearing a baseball cap to school is an essential part of your son’s cultural expression, have him wear it to class. When he is asked to take it off, sue the school. Tell the courts how your son suffers harm because a Muslim girl can wear a piece of cloth over her head, but your son can’t wear a baseball cap. The courts can decide whether the rule is unconstitutional.

  8. No Eric, I don’t have the Constitution wrong, and don’t read with half an eye.

    As I stated clearly, the fact that “separation of church and state” has never been properly upheld with consistency in this country, is not in contention. Even the Founding Fathers couldn’t seem to follow their own created rule. One of the things that people such as yourself unilaterally fail to recognise, and the other 98% of this country also, is that freedom of expression with regards to religion also covers those who are areligious, atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist.

    There are exceptions to when religious freedom(s) and the expression(s) of such are Constitutionally to be limited. That being, at any point where religious expression crosses over into any area where such expression can be shown to be directly supported as a function of the “state”.

    Notice how government buildings are almost always covered in “In God We Trust”, that is a breach of Constitutional Law.

    Have you ever been in court and had to swear in using a Christian Bible, that’s a violation of the Law.

    Have you ever seen the Ten Commandments in a government building, that is a breach of Constitutional Law.

    Have you ever looked at American currency, and noticed not only “In God We Trust”, but also pagan mythical symbols, that is a breach of Constitutional Law.

    I’m not the first to enumerate these instances, nor the last, and a small contingent of individuals, including lawyers, point this out quite frequently. Only to be sanctimoniously and unceremoniously silenced by our religiously adherent government.

    So again, “separation of church and state”, the public school system being an arm of the state, religiosity prohibited, in any fashion. That would be the Law, but as stated and known, it has yet in our history to be upheld.

    Just for the record, I don’t do law suits, and again I can tell you didn’t read my previous post comprehensively, as I stated that Quintin’s right was less ambiguous if he chose to promote a cultural identifier, such as a Black Panther’s beret.

    You also failed to answer the important question with regards to Spain; does their government provide protections for religious expression, and are there exceptions to those protections?

  9. eric


    We’re arguing apples and oranges here. You’re correct, there is no place for government sponsored religion in the public sphere. And yes, there is a problem with the use of “God” on the dollar bill and in court houses, etc. The courts are reluctant to abolish these practices for “historical reasons” and use.

    At the same time, though, the government cannot prohibit the individual expression of religion. They can’t tell a Priest testifying in a court case to remove his collar because he’s on public property. It can’t force a Sikh boy to cut his hair if that boy is to attend public school, and it cannot prohibit a child from independently reading the Bible during school recess. These are the two sides to it. One is the government sponsoring religion and the other is it prohibiting it. Under the First Amendment, it cannot “establish” religion or prohibit the “free exercise of religion”.

    Yes, I got your black panther reference, but for aguendo, I used the baseball cap example to follow your metaphor that baseball caps were cultural and culture was equivalent to religion. That’s all.

    As I mentioned the Spanish constitution requires schools to provide Catholic education, but at the same time the nation is thereotically a secular state. School are supposed to provide alternative non-religious studies for those who opt-out of the Catholic classes, but no non-Cathloic religous courses are offered (ie, Jewish, Muslim, etc). The government gives a chunk of change from taxes to the Church too, but citizens are allowed to choose on their tax forms whether their money goes to the church or to other social causes.

    And thereotically, people have freedom of expression (which would include religious freedom), but apparently they don’t want this girl to go to school with a scarf on her head because (i) it isn’t Spanish/Catalan, and (ii) it somehow discriminates against her as a woman.

    Interestingly, certain expressions are prohibited, ie, like saying bad things about the King or burning his image (there is a guy now standing trial for that), and it is illegal to form a political party that supports the Basque Terrorist Organization, ETA. I would suppose that a group like the KKK would be prohibited in most European countries, but I am not sure.

    And so follows another one of our debates!!! It’s a lot more fun than talking WiFi all day long. I wonder where ReWrite is these days?

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