A French court has recently upheld a Paris hospital’s right to reject a Muslim trainee doctor because he wore a beard. This, it was argued, infringed the French policy of secularism. Some items – the headscarf or skull cap for example – are always going to fall foul of this policy. However the beard, like the long skirts which have been barred from schools in some cases, is not always a sign of unacceptable religiosity. The precise context is taken into account – and I assume that the religious identity of the wearer is a major factor in determining each case. Libération reports:
“In these circumstances,” the court saw a breach of its obligations to respect secularism and the principle of neutrality of public service, even if the wearing of the beard “was accompanied by no act of proselytism” .It considered that the sanction, the termination of the doctor’s internship agreement, was “not disproportionate” , confirming the judgment rendered in first instance by the administrative court of Montreuil.
It seems particularly intrusive and unnecessary to pry into the doctor’s precise motives in this way – when the same beard on a Christian medic would have attracted no such attention. Here’s a comment taken from the Telegraph’s Facebook coverage of the story:
Do they also reject trainees with beards worn for nonreligious reasons?
If the answer to that is ‘no’, then they have not prohibited the act of growing a beard so much as they have prohibited what the person might have been thinking about when he committed the act of growing a beard.
In other words, you might say they rejected the trainee due to thoughtcrime.
Several have pointed out that beards might be seen as undesirable for reasons of hygiene – but this is an entirely separate issue, and one which played no role in the court’s decision.