For years it was considered the height of indecency for a woman to display more than her ankles when at the beach. The Victorians were particularly fussy that way. Gradually, fashions and morals changed. Full swimsuits became the norm, then bikinis.
Over the last few decades the dangers of skin cancer, from exposure to the sun, have become more obvious. Doctors advise us to cover up while on the beach. Few of us take much heed, but nevertheless it’s good advice.
Today, in parts of Southern France, it’s suddenly become illegal to cover up while on the beach. This….
…but this isn’t.
This woman was fined by French police and told to take off her shirt.
A debate is raging throughout France on whether ‘burkinis’, the Muslim version of a swimsuit covering so much of the body its modesty would even have raised the eyebrows of prudish Victorians, was acceptable on French beaches, or if it was a religious ’emblem’ banned under French law.
As the BBC reports today:
In 2010, France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public
A 2004 law forbids the wearing of religious emblems in schools and colleges
The 1905 constitution aims to separate Church and state. It enshrines secularism in education but also guarantees the freedom of religion and freedom to exercise it. The original text made no reference to clothing.
The ban on burkinis, or articles of clothing of a similar nature, was enacted by local mayors after the attack in Nice on Bastille Day that left eighty-five people dead.
French court rulings have overturned the bans, but the mayors say they’ll continue to enforce them in defiance of the higher legal authority.
It’s a difficult debate, given the sanctity of French secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. French children may not wear crosses or other Christian symbols in school, but the Constitution also protects the right of religious freedom.
It would seem the French mayors who are enforcing this ban have ignited a fiery debate that could threaten the very heart of the French Constitution itself.
 “France ‘burkini’: Mayors urged to heed court’s ruling” BBC, August 27th 2016