Library of Parliament on Freedom of Religion and Religious Symbols in the Public Sphere
"The issue of religious symbols in the public sphere has given rise to widespread debate on the scope of freedom of religion in various countries around the world. In our modern environment of globalization and unprecedented international migration flows, traditionally homogenous nations face the blurring of established spheres of cultural identity, and, in some cases, governments are changing laws, policies, and politics in an effort to manage these shifts. The various political, legislative, and judicial treatments of this issue have given rise to differing interpretations of freedom of religion as defined through domestic and international laws."
"The most prominent disputes over religious symbols in the public sphere have involved religious headcoverings - one of the most immediately obvious demonstrations of one’s faith that automatically distinguishes Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews from the larger, mostly Christian population in the Western world. The recent rise of immigrants in Europe has meant that headcoverings have become significant symbols of difference, provoking debate about their role in the public sphere."
"What becomes clear from this analysis is that while issues of freedom of religion are being debated in courts throughout the world in a variety of different contexts, the Islamic headscarf seems to have provoked cultural tensions in many European countries. One might argue that, backed by the ECHR, many states are turning to secularism as a protective shield in an attempt to guard society from the complexities of multiculturalism, effectively preventing the broad expression of a right that is guaranteed in international and domestic constitutional laws."
"In countries such as Canada and the United States, the question of religious symbols has been significantly less contentious, perhaps because these two nations were built upon the foundations of immigration and have needed to accept difference in order to survive. As a result, both Canada and the United States have a political and constitutional climate that has allowed their governments and courts to interpret freedom of religion in its broadest form, adopting an approach of neutral accommodation."
"Thus, each country in the Western world essentially provides a very similar guarantee of freedom, using a very similar constitutional proportionality test based on strong principles of freedom of religion. However, that test tends to be applied differently depending on each country’s historical traditions and its social and political culture, which have a profound influence on legal arguments concerning the limiting scope of safety, security, and public order."