It sounds like a dystopian fundamentalist fantasy: secular school wardens careening out of control, punishing religious students for having decent morals. But in France this week, a girl was really sent home because her skirt was too long.
Of course, things are different in France than they are in the United States. In France, public schools and institutions are governed by the rule of laïcité. No one may wear religious symbols to school, not headscarves, skullcaps, or big crosses.
In this case, “Sarah K.” was sent home when administrators decided her skirt represented religious garb. Like her friends and co-religionists at the school, Sarah had removed her headscarf as she went in. But her skirt still represented religious attire, school leaders believed. The principal wrote a note to her parents, according to the New York Times, warning them to “rectify her clothes if you want her to continue her schooling.”
In this country, we’ve seen our share of outraged religious conservatives kicked out of public schools for culture-war clothing issues. Remember the flap over the Romney shirt in Philadelphia? Or, up north, remember the kid who got kicked out for his “Life Is Wasted without Jesus” shirt?”
To this uninformed observer, Sarah K.’s case seems like an overreach by overzealous school officials. How can they decide if a skirt is part of a religious outfit, or if it is just a skirt? How can they conclude that Sarah K. intended for her maxi-skirt to be a statement of her religious faith?