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International experts advise more religious freedoms

International experts advise more religious freedoms

Today’s Zaman, 10.10.2011

Turkish and foreign legal experts expressed their opinions on the new constitution at the three-day İstanbul International Congress on Constitutional Law, hosted by the Boğaziçi Lawyers’ Association at the Haliç Congress Center.
Law experts attending the İstanbul International Congress on Constitutional Law, hosted by the Boğaziçi Lawyers’ Association at the Haliç Congress Center on Friday, shared the common view that the right to freedom of religion should be expanded in Turkey’s new constitution.

In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Professor Jeffrey E. Thomas, dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, emphasized the importance of society’s participation in the creation of the new constitution and said: “I believe that a constitution is very important for establishing and developing rule of law. It is very important to limiting the power of government, thereby protecting freedom for individuals.”

The wearing of the Muslim headscarf has been a matter of contention in Turkey for many years. A headscarf ban applies to certain public and government offices and locations in Turkey. The ban affects university students as well as those working in the public sector, and headscarf-wearing women are not allowed to enter military facilities, including hospitals and recreational areas belonging to the Turkish military.

Thomas expressed his opinion on the matter of freedom of religion, saying: “As an American, I have a strong cultural commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of association. It was an important value for our country at the time of its founding, and continues to be very important today. It is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of religion is also a widely recognized human right in various international documents. I think it is the sort of individual right that Turkey might want to protect in its constitution, but this is a choice for the Turkish people and government.”

Thomas added that the ideological content of the constitution is a major subject of debate and said that any legal document such as a constitution will necessarily reflect some elements of the ideology of those involved in drafting it. “The American constitution, for example, reflects a deep suspicion of governmental powers and a strong commitment to individual rights. The system of checks and balances and judicial review has come to be called ‘constitutionalism’ or ‘American constitutionalism.’ The current Turkish constitution reflects the ideology of those who were involved in creating it. Although many governments have tried to create and impose an ideology, those efforts are only partially successful. Ideology is an outgrowth of the culture of a place and of those who combine together in groups that wield power. The ‘official’ ideology should be that ideology which has the widespread support of the Turkish people.”

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