Sometimes the legal mind can cut through the fatuous pandering sniveling fawning dreck like a buzzsaw. Judge Jones is one memorable example, and David Pannick QC is another. (Hold the jokes. He’ll have heard them all.)

We respect the right of everyone to believe whatever they like: that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, Muhammad was God’s prophet, the Red Sea was parted for the Children of Israel or L. Ron Hubbard identified the path to total happiness. But there are two important limits to religious tolerance. First, I have no right to legal protection against your scepticism, criticism or ridicule. Religion is too powerful a force, and is too often a cause of injustice or evil, for it to be immune from discussion and debate…But in Europe it is not the role of the law, far less the Government, to prohibit or punish publications that sections of the community (whether Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists) find offensive.

And a good thing too. It ought to need only a few seconds of thought to see why. Think ‘goose’ and ‘gander’ if you need help.

The second legitimate restriction on freedom of religion is that Parliament and the courts may prevent some manifestations of religious belief. The law prohibits harmful conduct (such as setting fire to an abortion clinic), however sincerely a person may believe that such acts are commanded by his or her god…Much more difficult questions are raised by manifestations of religious belief that do not cause such obvious harm, but that may conflict with public policy or with other interests.

That may, in other words, cause non-obvious harm. Harm doesn’t have to be obvious to be harm. Sometimes it’s all the more harmful for being non-obvious.

Last November, the European Court of Human Rights decided, by 16-1, that it was not a breach of the right to religious freedom for a female university student in Turkey to be refused admission to lectures if she insisted on wearing an Islamic headscarf. The court emphasised that, in a multicultural society, restrictions on the manifestation of religion might be necessary to protect the interests of others. The university authorities were entitled to require the removal of the headscarf in order to protect female students who did not wish to wear such an item and who would otherwise come under severe pressure from extremist groups to comply with religious requirements.

Exactly the non-obvious harm that is so obstinately overlooked by people who are horrified by the French ban on the hijab in state schools.

A secular school is entitled to refuse to allow its female pupils to wear the more conservative jilbab if there is a reasonable basis for concern that girls who would wish to follow a more liberal tradition would then be pressured to conform to an extreme religious conception of the female role that they want to avoid. Shabina Begum v Denbigh High School is not just a case about the rights of a schoolgirl to wear a jilbab. It is also a case about whether a secular school may protect other pupils from religious pressures that seek to dictate the role of women.

There. A good buzz-saw.

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