Who better to call out the presence of religious inequality in a highly developed country such as France than the Pope himself?
In a recent interview with the Catholic newspaper La Croix, Pope Francis advocated for the respect of Muslim women and their right to wear hijab.
“If a Muslim woman wishes to wear a veil, she must be able to do so. Similarly, if a Catholic woman wishes to wear a cross. People must be free to profess their faith at the heart of their own culture not merely at its margins.”
Currently there are restrictions placed on Muslims–and others–who want to openly practice parts of their faith in France. In 2004, all religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, were banned in public places and schools.
Most recently in 2011, the face veil, known as niqab, was also banned in public. Women who are caught violating this law have faced fines, and even been court ordered citizenship classes.
While many forms of outward religious observance exist across all faiths, it seems the lawmakers of France are set on only addressing (rather, debating and enforcing) those that are of Islamic nature.
Catholic nuns and their religious attire are not only symbols of faith and piety in France, but they also represent a part of cultural mainstream due in part to the country’s background with the Church.
Islamic headwear, in contrast, is viewed as a threat to the traditional French way of life. Women who wear the hijab or niqab are seen to be deliberately rejecting and outright refusing to assimilate to French society.
France currently encompasses one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, with nearly six million calling it home.
“We are all equal as sons (and daughters) of God and with our own personal dignity. However, everyone must have the freedom to externalize his or her own faith,” Francis said.