We Use Laws Like this Against the Klan

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

We Use Laws Like this Against the Klan

According to a Dutch-language story, the governing coalition is supporting the proposal of frighteningly coiffed MP Geert Wilders to ban the wearing of burkas in public on the grounds of women's rights and public security.

Justice Minister Rita Verdonk, who always seems to be in the middle of one controversy or another, has now been landed with the task of figuring out whether a general ban would be legal (the Dutch courts do not strike down legislation that conflicts with the constitution, but both they and the European Court of Human Rights can review legislation for compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights). If she thinks it's not, then Parliament may still pass a more limited ban applying to schools and other specific places.

The debate reminded me of a case decided not long ago in federal court in New York and of the reversal of the court's decision on appeal (pdf). One difference is that the New York law forbade the concealing of one's face in general and was not applied only to one particular group, although it was passed with a particular group in mind: tenant farmers protesting violently against the conditions under which they worked the land. To bring this post full circle, back to the Netherlands, the tenant farmers operated under an arrangement established when New York was a Dutch colony and persisting two centuries later.

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