Praying in Public Should Not be Banned in France or Anywhere Else

Like blasphemy, prayer is harmless. There’s no need to ban it.

I argued here that there is nothing wrong with public religiosity.  There might be an element of scare-mongering in this Daily Telegraph report which suggests public prayer in Paris is to be criminalised, and admittedly I have not looked into this issue in detail yet, but I want to make it clear that in principle I have absolutely no objection to people praying in public. The banning of public prayer cannot be justified in the name of Secularism or any other political ideology.

I have no desire to live in a society where prayer or any other harmless activity is banned in public.

I’m not religious but I believe religious people have the right to pray in public so long as they understand that this hobby will not be afforded any more privilege or respect than any other hobby, and provided also that the legitimate rights of others are not infringed (including the right not to have violence incited against them).

Banning prayer in public unnecessarily infringes the rights of religious people. Not only that, but it’s also bad news for anyone – religious or otherwise – who might be easily and arbitrarily accused of this new offence of “praying” by an over-zealous, politically-influenced police force:

“Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour! Qu’est-ce que c’est que nous avons ici? Une manifestation politique, vous dites? NON! C’est la prière! C’est interdit!”

I strongly believe that something should not be allowed or condoned purely because it has a religious basis, such as infant genital mutilation or sub-standard legal systems. Equally strongly, I believe that something should not be banned purely because it has a religious basis – such as praying in public. As with anything, it is necessary to examine the actual detail of a particular activity, rather than just the label, to establish whether there is a right to do it, whether there are rights of others to consider, and consequently whether that activity ought to be banned or not.

If someone wants to pray in public, for God’s sake let them. At the very worst they’re just wasting their time but it’s their time, not yours. They have the right to pray and you have the right to do something more productive, or just to ignore them.