The Library of Parliament recently updated its research publication dealing with 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 [European Court of Human Rights], 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
"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."
Labels: comparative and foreign law, Library of Parliament, religion