The chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals raised objections to politicians plans to abolish the headscarf ban on university campuses in the wake of the referendum held on Sept.
12.
He warned that these efforts to free the use of the headscarf due to religious beliefs would violate the principle of secularism by grounding a public law on religious principles.
The chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals is right in saying that grounding a public law on religious principles would violate the principle of secularism.
But does the move to make the use of the headscarf free under freedom of religion and conscience mean grounding a public law on religious principles? Of course, not.
Actually, the prosecutors views on secularism are typical of perspectives firmly adopted by the states elites since the establishment of the republic and which date back to the Enlightenment and positivism: the belief that with modernization, religion as an institution unique to traditional, underdeveloped societies will or should lose its importance in social life.
Accordingly, public life is supposed to be arranged according to the requirements of this perspective.
In Turkey, secularism has always been understood and construed by the states elites in line with the paradigms of the Enlightenment and positivism.
It has always been seen as a basic political principle that would provide a basis for efforts to banish religion as something representative of backwardness that is to be distanced from the public life of the modernizing Turkish society.
However, secularism should be understood as a basic political and legal principle rather than as a social engineering tool, such that in a modern pluralistic society, political and legal arrangements cannot be based on religious principles.
Given the fact that political institutions or legal or political arrangements based on a specific religion, philosophical belief or ideology will not be accepted by everyone in the face of the pluralism of modern society and, therefore, their legitimacy will be questioned, secularism aims to lend legitimacy to the state and arrangements that are neutral toward diversity.
For this reason, it would be a violation of the principle of secularism if any public law is based on religious principles.
But does lifting the ban on the use of the headscarf on university campuses lead to such a result? On what basis is freedom for the headscarf sought? On a religious basis? Certainly, a legal arrangement based on the Islamic injunction on women to wear a headscarf is not advocated.
If this had been the case, the principle of secularism would have been violated, and the prosecutor would be right in his remarks.
However, headscarf freedom is advocated as part of human rights and freedoms and from the perspective of public wisdom acceptable to everyone.
A secular democratic state governed by the rule of law is responsible for ensuring the rights and freedoms and conditions that its citizens need in order to lead a good life.
Citizens themselves determine how they will use their own freedoms and what will be the content of their freedoms based on their beliefs as to what is valuable or meaningful in life.
Otherwise, it is not real freedom to grant freedoms to citizens while at the same time specifying what the content of those freedoms will be.
If an adult believes that she should wear a headscarf according to her beliefs, she is entitled to do this under the freedom of religion and conscience.
Another argument frequently voiced by the opponents of headscarf freedom on university campuses is that girls wearing headscarves do not do so of their own free will but due to pressure from their immediate environment or because of insufficient awareness.
Otherwise, they argue, the headscarf as a religious symbol representing the traditional and even reactionaryism would not find a place in modern life.
Obviously, there are some girls who wear a headscarf due to such pressures or out of unconscious choice, but to say that this applies to all head-scarved women is not only unrealistic today but shows a great disrespect toward them by specifying how they should use their freedoms.
Moreover, supposing that women wear headscarves due to pressure or lack of consciousness or information does not justify any ban on the headscarf, but underlines the states duty to create a free environment in which individuals can freely make their choices in a learned manner.
It is certainly possible to make arrangements to lift the ban on the headscarf on university campuses as part of the freedom of religion and conscience and in a way that would not violate the principle of secularism with emphasis on democratic rights and freedoms.
There is already a social consensus on this, but what is needed is the political determination.
It is in itself a violation of a basic right to urge headscarved women to choose between their right to education and freedom of religion and conscience.
To continue to force them to remove their headscarves at university entrances is to define how they should define the content of their freedom of faith, which effectively eliminates freedoms.
Todays Zaman, Turkey