You read that right: to school administrators in France, the choice of female Muslim students to dress in a way they find modest is being interpreted as an over-the-top display of their religious beliefs. This kind of ‘offense’ is forbidden in French schools under a 2004 law; the same law bans students from wearing any obvious religious imagery: no head scarves, no large crosses, no yarmulkes. An increasingly broad application of the law has led to things like long skirts being deemed ‘too religious’ for school, and most recently, a 15-year-old French known as Sarah K. has been sent home twice in the past few weeks for her choice to wear an ankle-length skirt to class.
You can see a picture of Sarah’s offensively long skirt in the article on the French website Le Monde—it’s certainly nothing that would look shocking or out of place, or definitively ‘Muslim’, in an American high school. In fact, I used to wear a skirt that looked a lot like that when I used to teach, and since I’ve long considered myself non-religious, I’m a little confused as to whether my use of that skirt has retroactively converted me to Islam. (I also had an ankle-length denim one that got a lot of mileage. Modest, yes; flattering, no. Forgive me for my sins against fashion, Denim Duggar Jesus.)
As a non-religious person, even a long-skirt-wearing one, I’m all about freedom of, and from, religion. But deciding a girl’s simple religious clothing is an offensive act–as if she is being religious at you instead of just being religious–is an outrageous over-reach of secular goals. It’s not hurtful to anyone to sit in a desk next to someone who is wearing religious attire (as long as that religious attire isn’t painted with a slogan like, “God hates [insert marginalized group of choice here]”. We can all live together in a secular society without demanding that people stop having their own personal beliefs in order to participate. And girls should be able to go to school with their shoulders bare or their ankles covered–because the most important lesson they should learn from their classes is not that their bodies are the fodder for political tug-of-war.
(Image: zgr_pro / iStock / Getty)