Dress Code Series: Freedom From Religion

In previous posts, I have written briefly about “freedom of religion” in relation to the burqa. In this post, I will be doing an in-depth examination of “Freedom of Religion” in relation to women’s rights and specifically in relation to women’s “Dress Code”. I will start by taking a look at the First Amendment of the United States as it is similar to the freedom of religion granted in many other countries:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

First, we need to understand that the first amendment is in regards to the free exercise of religion. The free exercise of religion includes the rights that one has in leaving that religion and the rights that one has to convert to another religion. From these two rights I am lead to ask, “why would someone leave a religion they are currently a part of?” And when it comes to women, the reasons have often been related to sexism which includes: restriction, shame, unrealistic expectations, blatant sexism, a problematic view of who god is that seems to be too “unjust” to accept, a harm inflected by religious institutions on an individual in the name of that religion, an extremist practice that distorts the religion past a level that upholds its meaning even when vaguely and stereotypically viewed, and/or an over-reach that allows others to intrude against the life of a person using religion as an excuse. In that, we need to understand that in protecting the free exercise of religion,  one has to protect people from religious aspects that are against freedom itself as well as protect the people’s right to leave a religion—where “leaving a religion” and “religious aspects that are against freedom itself” are almost the same in relation to the nature of a person as one who is worthy of being protected. Meaning: If I am not worthy of being protected, then who cares what hell others will inflect on me?! But if I am a person who is worthy of being protected, then I am someone who will not leave a religion due to being a shitty person. And if I was to leave a religion and given that I am not a shitty person, then leaving a religion should be (most of the time) related to my rights being infringed upon by that religion in relation to what it means for one to be “free” within a nation-state. This ties up “what it means to be free within a nation-state” with “what it means to have religious freedom” into making “free exercise of religion” be a thing related to a person leaving a religion due to it infringing on his/her rights where, if problems emerge, one needs to either A. Change the culture found within the nation-state. Or B. Protect people from a religion that is violating them.  In that, now we have the aspect of “protecting people from a religion” as being part of  the “free exercise thereof” when it comes to religion. Hence, to say, “This is part of a religion” can no longer be a valid enough of a reason to protect a religious practice.

Before I continue this article, I want to stop for a minute in order to discuss as to prove the aspect that is “Freedom from Religion” since it is an important one to prove beyond reasonable doubt (something I will do in later articles). If a person has “free exercise of a religion” granted as a right, then being “imposed into a religion” is not a right but it is unconstitutional. Hence, that which imposes me into a religion is that which should grant me a constitutional freedom away from it. In that, parents, for example, can raise their children into a religion. But they are not allowed, after the child turns 18, to impose that religion on their children. In that, parents raise their children in a religion and they need to grant their children the right to leave that religion when they are 18 if their children choose so. Therefore, that which imposes a religion  must also allow one the right to “leave a religion”. And that which grants “freedom of religion” (whether it is parents, religious institutions, etc) must also grant “freedom to leave a religion/freedom from religion” lest a person uses the justices system in order to have that right asserted as correct. In that, if one’s parent’s are not allowing him/her to leave a religion, the government will allow them to leave it and the government will provide (needs to provide) the protection necessary for that person to do so. This imposition in relation to religion can be in relation to a religious principle than is not protected by the constitution if it creates an imposition in relation to the “free exercise of religion”. An example is if a religion threatens the life of a person if she/he were to leave it. That aspect of the religion cannot be protected by the constitution as it forces people to exercise a religion they may not want to be in—thereby infringing on their First Amendment rights. In that, a religion cannot come to court and argue a point under which it states, “due to the fact that the followers of our religion cannot convert to another religion, we are asking the court to X, Y, Z”. For such principle may be a part of a religion but it does not abide by the “free exercise” aspect of our constitution. I will be discussing “freedom from religion” in detail later on and some more down below.

Let us get back to the topic at hand:

To prove an aspect of religion not to be that which is protected by the constitution remains a difficult task, however, given that all aspects of culture and all aspects of the status quo often collide with religions that all have partaken in creating it. Meaning that all religions have influenced our culture and our status quo already. And all religions have often forbidden only for culture to take-up the opposite of that which they preach. Yet, when it is the opposite, it is not necessarily correct if the agreement is not correct— but the opposite in such case is “retaliatory” and “reactive” in nature. Meaning: If a religion says that women must wear a burqa, then wearing short shorts–within that nation-state—is not necessarily correct but it is a reaction to women being commanded to wear the burqa due to how wearing the Burqa is the opposite of one wearing short shorts. So now if we were to say, “wearing the burqa should not be protected by the constitution of this nation-state”, then one cannot just say that “wearing short shorts” is what constitutes “freedom” due to the fact that the wearing of the burqa has contributed to the reasons why one wears short shorts as that which has already spoken against and expressed opposition to that religion. Meaning: “yes, we know that wearing short shorts is more freeing to some people and that has already been expressed!” The task becomes in relation to not pulling a person from a religion due to protecting them from it and dumping them in boiling water as being the place of refuge. And that is precisely where we stand today in relation to citizens raising issues concerning freedom of religion and in relation to those who stand in defense of those religions. Can we pull a woman out of a religion that forces her to wear a burqa and “dump” her in a place where her body is objectified sexually in a different manner? And that is where men come into the picture in relation to “protecting a woman’s freedom of religion” despite such protection being a form of imposition against her due to the lack of protection found anywhere in this world for women. Meaning that when men want to protect a woman’s religious freedom, they are merely protecting one form of sexism or another given that all religions have at least a few sexist aspects within them.

In protecting, we must truly protect, however. Hence, the objectification of women can be tied up to a woman’s “freedom of religion” as that which imposes her to practice a religion against her will. Meaning: One reason why a woman practices Islam, for example, is because she does not want to be objectified if she was to leave it. In that, freedom of religion is violated by sexism just as much as a religion contributes to sexism given that religion offers a form of protection and community from that sexism whereas society, in general, may not do so. And in having that dynamic already at play in our world today, we see that often times feminists have tried to combat such dynamic by offering protection and a sense of community to women outside of religion in such cases as abortions, for example. In remaining within a religion, a woman may not have pre-marital sex where she may not need an abortion. In leaving the religion, one needs to offer similar protection to women if they were to have pre-marital sex. Otherwise, more women will remain with that religion. In that, is wearing the burqa against a woman’s freedom of religion? Yes, but so is wearing short shorts as it forces women to remain within a religion that forces her to wear a burqa. So both the wearing of burqa and wearing of short shorts violates freedom of religion. And often times, how religions try to address such issue is by attempting to make it illegal for a woman to, for example, “wear short shorts”. Yet, to address such issue in this manner is not correct due to the fact that it is merely the same issue… where in protecting the burqa one is protecting the wearing of “short shorts”. And that is the wrong in the wrong and the right in the right and the difference between the two. And in relation to appearance, one of these two will always appear to be more right than the other… Although when it comes to what is right and what is wrong, “appearing” to be right or wrong is not necessarily being truly right or wrong.

And so, due to the fact that “appearing” to be right or wrong is not necessarily for one to be truly right or wrong, we have appearance tied to action where action ties us back to religion. Usually a person displays a certain appearance if s/he is sick and they display a certain appearance if they are happy/sad/depressed/excited/etc. This appearance is a display of the inner self in relation to their condition at a particular moment. No one displays his/her inner self for the sake of being harmed by others due to it. This is true of racism, as well, in relation to black people as that becomes a statement made by god in relation to what means for one to “display” something. God did not allow the display of brown skin tone or a black skin tone or a white skin tone for others to harm us. And god did not allow the display of Asian face features or Black face features or Caucasian face features for those features to harm us. In fact, god allowed certain animals to display their sharp teeth when they are coming under attack… hence, showing us that what is displayed is in relation to us not being harmed where if we were to be harmed, god himself has given us the right to display a defense mechanism that he himself has equipped us with. Hence, as human beings, when a person displays an appearance that we do not find to be desirable (such as anger, depression, etc), our role becomes related to understanding and support.

The appearance of women is not displayed in order that she may get raped, attacked, assaulted, harassed, or left alone given that being “left alone” has its own display that is confirmed verbally and is conformed in conjunction to other factors.  This “leave me alone” is a thing that becomes a default in a sexist society and it is a thing that is out of the norms in a better non-sexist society. This is proven to be so due to the fact that in certain sexist societies, a woman must wear the hijab or the burqa in order to send this “out of the ordinary”  leave-me-alone-message. And this is proven to be so due to the fact that in certain societies, a woman feels too harassed by men whenever she steps out of her house to a point where she wants to be left alone. In that, the correctness in not having a “leave me alone” society is something that the west protects for men at the cost of women due to sexism—in that, men do not have to worry about “being left alone”. And the correctness in not having a “leave me alone” society is something that East opposes at the cost of women by forcing women to wear the hijab and the burqa showing us that this “leave me alone” is not what is correct or ordinary. In that, the opposition of women in the west to “do not leave me alone” shows the sexism in our society. And the granting of “leave me alone” for women in the East only caters to that sexism as to make it the thing that is correct when it is not. In relation to religion, therefore, actions that insinuate the correctness in raping, attacking, assaulting, or harassing a woman are against freedom of religion as they may force a woman to practice a certain religion. And such actions are not pertaining to women (one cannot say that it is illegal for a woman to wear short shorts) but they are pertaining to the actions that take this “do not leave me alone” and confirm it as correct or they are pertaining to the actions that take this “do not leave me alone” and make women oppose it (in that, one cannot say that a woman does not have the right to be left alone in a sexist society).

If a woman has the right to be left alone, then one is protecting sexism if they were to protect freedom of religion pertaining to that “right”.  Meaning: If a woman feels it right to be left alone, then one would be protecting the sexism that allows a man to harass her (which is why she wants to be left alone) where if that right was to be found in a religion, then the religion itself is violating the rights of women in it. And if such religion offers protection for women by giving them the right “to be left alone”, then that is not a right at all. Meaning: “Free exercise of religion” cannot be in relation to one being left alone due to that which is harassing, criminal, etc since a nation-state should not make laws respecting establishment of religion. To make laws respecting establishment of religion is translated (at its worse) as a government that says, “everyone needs to be Muslim/Christian/Jewish or else!” And when we look at why doing so is not right, we see two issues: First, people may not believe what is preached in one religion and, hence, people would be forced into an oppressive following of a religion. Second, there is the “or else!” aspect of establishing a religion that endangers people’s lives if they were to deviate from that religion. Let us add harassment, assault, and rape in order to see that this becomes of the same nature as, “if you do not practice Islam/Christianity/Judaism; you will be harassed, raped, or assaulted!”

Going back to “leave me alone”: I need to clarify that a person does have the right to choose who they want to hang out with in relation to not being forced to only associate with specific people and a person does have the right to their “alone time”. What I am speaking about when I say, “not to be left alone” is the correctness of having a stranger approach a woman without such approach being sex related. Hence, “to be left alone” is a wrong due to sexism determining what it means for one not to be left alone where “sexism” becomes similar to forcing a woman to only hang out with a specifically selected people. In that, sexism is similar to telling a woman, “you are not allowed to see anyone but your own husband!” and if that was the case, then “being left alone” by everyone else becomes right and correct. Hence, a religion is not allowed to violate the laws pertaining to holding a person hostage and neither is it allowed to violate the laws pertaining to human trafficking and neither is it allowed to violate the laws pertaining to kidnapping. And the right of a woman to “not be left alone” becomes similar to a woman having the right to live in a world that is peaceful and in a world that does not objectify her and in a world that does not attack her for being a woman. And the right of a woman to “be left alone” becomes similar to a woman having the RIGHT to live in a world that is not peaceful towards her and in a world that objectifies her and in a world that does attack her for being a woman. Meaning that the right of a woman to “not be left alone” is in her right not to be objectified and harassed whenever she is not left alone in order that if she is not left alone, she not being violated by others. In that: to be around others should be right (a right) and should not be burdensome. And in having the right to live in a world where a woman is left alone one, must necessarily either feel harassed or attacked…where being left alone is better…and in living in such world a woman may need to find a way to combat that situation as to protect herself from such harassment or attacks. Religion, therefore, does have the right to protect a woman from being attacked but it does not have the right to hold such attacks as correct if a woman was to not “protect” herself from them. In that, a religion that preaches the right of a woman to protect herself from attacks while holding such attacks as correct if it was not for the protection that is offered by the religion, is a religion that is violating a woman’s right to free exercise of a religion as the religion becomes imposed on the woman due to the necessary protection where such imposition abuses the woman mentally by asserting such attacks as correct against her. Hence, in such case, a woman would NOT be saying, “I am freely practicing this religion”, but a woman would be saying, “I am imposed/forced to practice this religion due to not wanting someone to attack me” where being “attacked by someone” is sometimes the same as “to be around other people”.

The appearance of women is not displayed in order that she may get raped. And religion cannot condone such statements that tell us that “a woman’s appearance can get her raped” as correct due to the fact that such teaching do create a society under which such statements become a reality. The free exercise of religion does not allow for one to preach the idea that, “you must wear this, lest you get raped” since, again, that is similar to saying, “practice this religion, lest you get raped!” And if society at large does believe that the appearance of a woman can get her raped, then such belief cannot be protected by the law as to free a rapist from responsibility due to how a woman is dressed. And although some men may rape a woman due to how she is dressed, we need to see that the way a woman is dressed to have been affected by the existence of rape already (meaning: she did not wear this outfit and then she got raped. No: There is rape in our society, hence the woman wore this outfit, and a man acted within the terms of society under which rape exists) and we need to see that the way a woman is dressed to always be within the area that is considered “modest” in relation to her status within society (meaning: when women reveal a lot of skin, that is modest due to all the aspects of society that made a woman “comfortable” in wearing such clothes). And now when we apply this to such countries as Afghanistan, we say that society has women that do not want to be raped but men who do not mind raping them; hence the woman wore burqa, and men acted within the terms of society under which otherwise men would not mind raping the woman. In that what she is wearing is in relation to society having had a say so already where “raping a woman” exists already as an “acceptable idea”. And just as raping a woman requires one to be in the near vicinity of a woman; the wearing of a burqa acts as a way under which one is “not in the near vicinity” of a woman. In that, to be in the near vicinity of a man would be enough to rape her. Which is why “rape” exists already within such society. As we apply the above to a country such as Afghanistan, we can say that the woman wearing the burqa is modest in relation to her status within society where all aspects of society made a woman “comfortable” in wearing the burqa.

AGAIN: And although some men may rape a woman due to how she is dressed, we need to see that the way a woman is dressed to have been affected by the existence of rape already (meaning: she did not wear this outfit and then she got raped. No: There is rape in our society, hence the woman wore this outfit, and a man acted within the terms of society under which rape exists) and we need to see that the way a woman is dressed to always be within the area that is considered “modest” in relation to her status within society (meaning: when women reveal a lot of skin, that is modest due to all the aspects of society that made a woman “comfortable” in wearing such clothes). Now if we add these two aspects together for a country such as Afghanistan, we see that: Being “comfortable” is more of a woman “trying to avoid being raped”. And we can see that “avoiding rape” is part of “modesty”. And we can also see that rape must exist for a woman to need to avoid it even if the statistics show no incidents of rape at all. Hence in adding these two aspects above together we get a “feel” for what society is about and a “feel” for the condition of women in it. If we were to do the same for a Western society, we see that being “comfortable” is for a woman to accept being objectified. We can also see that the problems that come from a woman being objectified are often worse than rape. We can also see that the objectification of women is redefining what it means for a woman to be raped in order for a woman to feel “comfortable” in wearing revealing clothes where such clothes are seen as “modest”. AGAIN: what women wear in society is always “modest” even if they are wearing a G-String.

Tying the idea above to religion through the wearing of the burqa (dare I say: thank goodness for the burqa) tells us that freedom of religion is violated due to sexism which forces a woman to wear the burqa and forces a woman to wear revealing clothes. WHAT I AM SAYING IS THE FOLLOWING: WEARING BURQA IS A VIOLATION OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. In that “freedom of religion” truly needs to be violated due to sexism as to force a woman to wear the burqa or revealing clothes in order for us to apply “freedom of religion laws”. Yet, a religion cannot be the thing the violates its own self in a sexist manner as to force a woman to wear the burqa or revealing clothes. Hence, now we get to the aspect of religion under which a religion violates its own “freedom of religion” rights. If a religion opposes rape  but society condones it…and if in having the society condoning rape, then members of a religion are forced to “cover up/get naked” in order to abide by their religion. Therefore, a religion would stand against rape as a thing that violates its “freedom of religion” since rape would burden its women unjustly. In such case, “covering up” would be evidence that one’s “freedom of religion” has been violated. Yet, a religion cannot play the “devil’s advocate” in taking the role of a society under which rape is deemed as “fine” where “covering up women/ getting them naked” becomes something protected by “freedom of religion” via including “rape” as part of that religion. Hence, a religion has violated its own “freedom of religion” if its ideology condones that which is harmful against its members as that which is correct to happen to them lest they further abide by its other teachings. And this “violation of freedom of religion” by the religion itself is a thing that creates two layers: 1. a new society and 2. the religion. Where the new society is in regards to a new”correct” that is truly far from correct— in order for the religion to be practiced. For example: “1. Raping a woman is fine… therefore, 2. you must wear the burqa if you do not want to be raped” 1. new “correct” and 2. using number 1 in order to practice the religion correctly. This is how a religion violates its own “freedom of religion”. And one can see that a statement declaring: “1. raping a woman is NOT fine…therefore, 2. women in our society wear revealing clothes” to be a statement under which the opposite of number 1 has already been applied in order to create number two. Meaning, at one point, “raping women was fine”…and when that was applied, we get number 2: “women today wear revealing clothes.

Today in our world, many see the hijab and burqa to be something that must be banned. And today in our world, many women believe that certain clothes do objectify women. Hence, the question becomes: can we ban the wearing of the burqa in relation to religion? And the answer is: Yes, because “wearing the burqa” is what violates “freedom of religion”. Meaning: “I am forced to wear the burqa due to my freedom of religion being infringed upon as a result of sexism”.

About the Author
Liliyan Hassan

Liliyan Hassan

Founder: Go for Women

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