Religion and Freedom
If freedom of religion were to disappear overnight from the various treaties, constitutions, and statutory bills of rights in which it is currently found, much that is currently protected as religion could equally be covered as a manifestation of freedom of expression. While religion certainly has its contemplative internal dimension, most religions are also communicative in a variety of ways. Religious individuals may pray together, sing or chant, read from holy works, teach their children, write religious works of various kinds, preach, protest, and proselytize— all examples of free speech as well as the free exercise of religion. Additionally, religions make use of the realm of symbolic expression in a variety of ways: in religious dress, the display of religious symbols, the performance of religious rituals, and the wearing of religious items and particular hairstyles. These too are covered by the notion of freedom of expression in many jurisdictions.
While some forms of religious expression have remained beyond the realm of legitimate State intervention in democracies, others have proved much more contentious. One area of contention is proselytism or missionary activity: religious speech and associated activities that aim to convert others to the religion of the speaker. This is covered in the chapter herein by Paul Taylor. The current chapter explores several other areas of particular contention with respect to the overlap between freedom of expression and religion, in particular, the wearing of religious dress or symbols, hate speech and religious defamation, prayer or religious education in public schools, and religious symbols in public institutions.
Many religious believers feel either obligated by their religion or have a strong religiously motivated desire to wear clothing or religious symbols that express their adherence to a particular religion. Practices that some members of a religion may adopt include the wearing of a turban and kirpan (religious knife) by Sikh men, wearing a headcovering for Muslim and Jewish women, Rastafarians wearing their hair in dreadlocks, Jewish men wearing a yarmulke, and Christians wearing a cross.1 Individuals within the same religion may have different conceptions of what is required by their religion in this respect. For example, the English case of SB v. Denbigh High2 involved a Muslim student who wished to wear the stricter jilbab rather than the shalwar kameeze school uniform for Muslim girls