Religious liberty is the most important, most fundamental human and constitutional right that must be protected above all else. Why? Because religious liberty is really the freedom of thought and conscience, the ability to decides for ourselves what is good and evil, right and wrong, and to view the world by a particular framework. No other freedom is more important because no other freedom is purely about the individual’s right to determine what he or she believes devoid of coercion.
Western civilization successfully brought about religious liberty after centuries of religious and political conflict, which helped lead to the idea of a secular government. This was a long process following the wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe. As John Locke wrote in “A Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689), “The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light.” [It should be noted that Locke did not believe in toleration for atheists and Catholics, but his Letter was still an important development.]
Our own Founder Thomas Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia” (1781), “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” These are the general principles by which we live; you have the freedom to believe what you want while I have the freedom to believe what I want.
Unlike other Western countries, France has gone beyond the basic idea of religious liberty and secular government to a radical form of secularization. This is not a recent phenomenon for them, as the French have been rather radical since their Revolution and Reign of Terror that left over 40,000 people dead. The revolutionaries created a 10-day week in order to abolish the Judeo-Christian tradition, eliminated the ability for the Church to tax, and confiscated Church property. Now, France once again is going after religious people by banning “burqinis” at beaches and ticketing women who wear them. Burqini (a portmanteau of burqa and bikini) is a swimsuit that covers the whole body and meant to allow devout Muslim women to go to the beach with their families as according to Islamic theology only male family members can see women uncovered.
Why are the French doing this? As one Muslim woman’s ticket read, her fine was due to her not having “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” Notice the last word in the statement. French secularism, called Laïcité, is meant to eliminate religion in public, and the law even prevents wearing hijabs, skullcaps, or crosses at public schools.
Conservatives must vociferously oppose these attacks on Muslim women in France (and elsewhere) because what the French and their radical allies are really doing is attacking religious liberty and freedom of thought. If conservatives believe in religious liberty, which we do, then we must defend it even for religious minorities. Especially because even the left in America has already started going after churches here that dissent from liberal sexual ethics. If we want our own consciences and thoughts protected, then we must protect and promote the same protections for others and preserve this quintessential human right. We must defend the burqini and by doing so religious liberty.