In a highly controversial move aimed at reasserting the French republic's secular ideal, the French National Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to ban conspicuous religious symbols from public schools. Despite inviting international criticism and sowing the seeds for potential religious mutiny, the French public strongly favored the ban, which includes Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, and large Christian crosses.

International media have mocked the proposal, arguing that schoolgirl wardrobes don't exactly threaten the essential nature of French republicanism. As a result, Muslims may face further marginalization within French culture and turn toward Islamic fundamentalists for acceptance. The French government hopes for the opposite result, believing it can quash radical Islam only by such contrived assimilation.

This notion may sound absurd to Americans, who so highly esteem individualistic notions of freedom in expression and conscience. Yet in France, there can be no other conclusion. To be French is to guard against the threat posed by public religiosity. Drawing upon their volatile and frequently bloody religious history for justification, proponents of the ban assert that liberty must be preserved through vigilant public secularism.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity The storming of the Bastille in 1789 unleashed centuries of unrest. Encouraged by the unlikely success of their cross-Atlantic allies, the French people revolted against their rulers and ushered in a breathtaking new order founded on three principles—liberty, equality, and fraternity. Though the Revolution famously collapsed in the bloodbath of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, then morphed into Napoleonic monarchy and conquest, its essential aims earned ...

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