The French Senate has passed a new law that will ban the wearing of the full Islamic facial veil in public.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, the burqa and all the various burqa accessories has always struck me as being the perfect symbol of repression, oppression, and sexism.  For me, there would be no greater nightmare than to know that every day would have to be spent bundled up and hidden away.  Maybe I’d feel differently if I came from an Islamic background but, quite frankly, I hope not.

Last week, I was, quite frankly, disgusted by an obscure pastor who announced that he was planning on publicly burning the Koran on the anniversary of 9-11.  To be honest, I probably would have been a little bit more supportive if he had been burning a burqa.

On the other hand, I can’t help but read this story and think about my St. Vitus medal.  The medal was a gift from my mom on my 15th birthday.  She gave it to me because St. Vitus is the patron saint of dancers and when I was 15, that was my life.  Nine years later, I only dance for fun and I’m no longer a practicing Catholic.  But I still wear my medal nearly every day and I still feel far more confident when it’s around my neck than when it isn’t.  Whenever I wear it, I just feel more confident and happy.  When I wear it, I feel as if my mom’s spirit is with me.

When I first read about the possibility that France might ban the full veil, I found myself wondering how I’d react if France had banned the wearing of religious medals.  Consider that the one of the arguments for banning the veil was that France is a “secular” society.  The same argument could be used to support banning anything that could be considered to be an expression of religious faith regardless of whether the wearer shared that faith or not.  While I — and many others — view the facial veil as a symbol of oppression, there are just as many people who would make the same argument about the crucifix that I have hanging beside my bed.

I’ve often wondered about why I continue to put that crucifix on the wall.  Why do I still occasionally go to mass?  Why do I wear my Vitus medal?  As I said before, I’m no longer a practicing Catholic or, to be honest, a believer in any sort of higher power.  However, it’s unthinkable to me to throw out all the symbols of my former beliefs.  Beyond any theological belief, it’s the culture I was raised in and when I look at that crucifix, it reminds me of who I am and where I came from.  Regardless of whether I still consider myself to be a part of that culture, it still played a large role — both good and bad — in shaping who I am today.

However, many people would say that Catholicism is oppressive and evil.  Many people would say that by wearing that medal, I’m supporting child molesters and homophobia.  They would say that the fact that I’m an unbeliever doesn’t matter.  They would say that as long as I wear that medal with those words — Pray For Us — I am supporting the Vatican and everything that the Vatican has ever done and will ever do.  Those people would applaud my losing the right to wear it as enthusiastically as others would applaud the banning of the facial veil.

I guess my ultimate feeling about this is that women, regardless of their religious beliefs, should have the right to wear whatever they want.  I would be a lot more enthusiastic about a law that said women could not be forced to wear the veil as opposed to a law that states that women are not allowed to wear them.

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