We request all religious leaders and organizations who support basic human rights to review and sign on to the letter below:
Ms. Navanethem Pillay
Ms. Asma Jahangir
Mr. Vernor Muñoz Villalobos
Mr. Githu Muigai
Ms. Jessica Neuwirth
Sir John Sawers
Re: Right to Education, Dignity, and Freedom of Religion; Discrimination by France
We the undersigned religious leaders, organizations, and representatives of diverse religious traditions from around the world are writing you in the hope that you will use your considerable influence and dedication to the rule of law to address an issue that has serious implications for people of many faith traditions, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.
In 2004, a law was passed in France whereby the wearing of any ostensible religious symbol or attire which reveals a religious affiliation is forbidden in public schools and on photograph identification. Under this law, schoolchildren are banned from wearing Christian crosses, Jewish yarmulke (skull-cap), Islamic hijab (head scarf), and the Sikh dastaar (turban).
Although intended to promote secularity and security, the French laws violate some fundamental human rights: freedom of religion, the right to education, freedom of movement, and equal protection under the law. Students from several faith communities have been expelled from schools, are refused admission to school, and have suffered immense psychological harm as a result of wearing religious symbols. Children have been ostracized from mainstream society as a direct consequence of government policies, andstudents are forced to choose between their faith and education. Thousands of schoolchildren of various faiths in France are affected by this law, and some private schools have also adopted similar rules. Individuals who rely on their photograph identification for their healthcare and employment are living as second class citizens and they are unable to travel and transact freely inside and outside France. It is clear that these laws have had a disastrous impact on the freedom and rights of many individuals who choose to practice their faith.
Unfortunately, the outcry of the global Sikh community1 has had no effect on the French government. Therefore, UNITED SIKHS, an international UN-DPI-affiliated organization engaged in human and civil rights advocacy, began pursuing justice through the judicial system. After exhausting available domestic legal remedies with no justice, UNITED SIKHS filed cases before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in June of 2007 and before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in December of 2008. The European Court dismissed the case on basis of public security and protection of public order, without requiring France to respond. The Court paid no heed to the immense burden placed on the applicant's freedom nor the well-grounded arguments that a law which results in alienation and marginalization cannot ultimately benefit collective security.
We as religious leaders believe that France, as a democracy, must do better to safeguard religious freedom.
The religious communities affected by these laws in France are also concerned that this injustice will spread to other countries and the world stands witness to this currently happening. We are in need of your assistance to raise the profile of this issue and secure justice for the religious communities in France and other communities that have been affected, and to turn the tide on this growing problem. In the attached Appendix, please find the sections, articles, and provisions of International Law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and European Law which are violated by the French ban on ostensible religious symbols and attire.
We respectfully urge you to speak out against these discriminatory French laws and do everything in your power to ensure the protection of these most basic human rights and freedoms.
Very truly yours,