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Freedom of religion does not call for banning it altogether

Many might have read in The Oracle about the recent controversy over a USF basketball player, Andrea Armstrong, wanting to wear a headscarf and clothing that would cover her arms and legs on the court in order to comply with the codes of Islam, to which she recently converted.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that Armstrong said she was forced to quit the team. The newspaper also reported that Armstrong said USF coach Jose Fernandez “told her the clothing would make teammates uncomfortable and also said Islam oppressed women.” Armstrong told the Times that Fernandez telephoned the player’s parents and told them she had joined a “cult.”

But Fernandez told The Oracle that this was not accurate and Armstrong had initially quit on her own, and, following a meeting with USF officials, returned to the team. Fernandez said, “She was not dismissed from the team and she was not asked to leave the team. Her reason for leaving the team was that she wanted to pursue her faith.”

The Oracle then reported on Thursday that Armstrong decided to once again quit the team, citing the issue as divisive in the community and saying, “I don’t want this issue to cause further distraction.” The Times reported that Armstrong had negative comments directed toward her and Islam from people both on and off campus, and that the newspaper had received similar messages after printing the story.

Regardless of the actual facts of the case, this is one example of the dilemma that occurs when faith clashes with the public realm. One other notable case is in France.

A law banning religious wear and symbols, such as Muslim headscarves, Jewish yarmulke and Christian crosses, officially took effect Sept. 2 in France. The supposed rationale behind the new law is to promote strict secularism and equality in French schools.

This is a sad example of how some can go too far in the pursuit of making sure no one is offended. Apparently they believe that someone wearing religious apparel is offensive to someone who is not of that religion. Using this logic, I, as a Christian, should be offended every time I see a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf or a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke.

In this country, we are supposed to believe in freedom of religion, conscience and expression. Acting offended by someone wearing their traditional religious apparel, regardless of whether or not they are Muslim, is essentially like saying that person doesn’t have the right to practice their religion. It’s one thing to say that their religion is wrong, another to make a law that forbids them from practicing it.

Ironically, by banning all of these statements of religious expression, France has more or less set up its own official state religion, that of secularism. Last year, French President Jacques Chirac, referring to the then-potential law, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying secularism was “not negotiable.” He added, “We cannot allow people to shelter behind a deviant idea of religious liberty in order to defy the laws of the republic or to threaten fundamental principles of a modern society.” Apparently Chirac sees himself as the authority on which religions are okay to observe and which are not.

Francois Fillon, France’s education minister, was quoted by the New York Times as saying the opening day of school was “marked by fraternity, the idea that all children are treated fairly and equally.” Apparently Fillon’s idea of equal treatment is to equally deny all children their religious liberties.

Violations of religious liberty have been pretty much equally committed against students of all faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.

Unfortunately, many people view these violations as acceptable under the banners of “secularism” or “equality.”

In the attempt to be secular, equal and non-offensive when it comes to all religions, many have become equally oppressive toward all of them as well.

Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science.