Article 18: An Orphaned Right
Structural discrimination that is embedded in “seemingly” neutral legislative policy and has the impact of marginalizing vulnerable communities is one of the most pernicious forms of discrimination. Today, the assault on religious manifestation has extended to many European countries.
After successfully defending numerous domestic and regional legal challenges, the French government has been squarely oppossed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (“HRC”) who recently found France in violation of Article 18 (religious freedom) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This challenge was brought by Bikramjit Singh who was barred from manifesting his faith with a keski (small turban) in public school.
Generally, any country seeking to restrict religious manifestation must show that the law is: a) “necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”;6 b) “proportionate to the specific need”; and c) nondiscriminatory.
Thus, Law No. 2004-22 must be repealed and conform to international human rights norms. The homogeneity that Law No. 2004 seeks to create is antithetical to the values of secularism (laïcité), pluralism, and democracy because it is the essence of structural discrimination. The HRC must push for France to comply with its decision or initiate a State investigation.