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Children and Religious Expression in School: A Comparative Treatment of the Veil and Other Religious Symbols in Western Democracies


Catherine J. Ross


George Washington University - Law School; Institute for Advanced Study


CHILDREN IN THE DISCOURSES OF RELIGION AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS, Martha Fineman and Karen Worthington, eds., Ashgate Press, Forthcoming
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 408
Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-31

Abstract:     
Whether and how to accommodate students' personal religious symbols worn in public schools are part of a mounting global debate. The competing claims of the body politic and the religious or cultural identity of minority groups came to a head in what the French called the "affair of the veil." This chapter examines the problem of the veil from a cross-cultural perspective, comparing the United States to several other western democracies. The comparison involves both legal and cultural premises. In each instance, the analysis must consider the fundamental values of the body politic, the laws and covenants that govern decision-making, and the society's basic premises about the relation between religion and the state. The inquiry is further complicated by broader claims of the sub-groups with which parents and children identify.

Part one of this chapter discusses the cultural significance of dress, and briefly summarizes the apparel associated with certain religions and its significance. Part two considers the legal regimes and models that govern student religious garb in the United States, France, Great Britain and Canada. Part three examines the extent to which those four models succeed in balancing all of the potential individual rights claims that arise when students wear symbols to school and in balancing those claims with those of minority groups and the broader collectivity.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 56

Keywords: children, religious expression, religious symbols, public schools, human rights

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Date posted: May 25, 2008 ; Last revised: September 23, 2009

Suggested Citation

Ross, Catherine J., Children and Religious Expression in School: A Comparative Treatment of the Veil and Other Religious Symbols in Western Democracies. ; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 408; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-31. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1136366

Contact Information

Catherine J. Ross (Contact Author)
George Washington University - Law School ( email )
2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
Institute for Advanced Study ( email )
Einstein Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States
609/734-8268 (Phone)
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