Religion and Clothing: the Capabilities Approach Considered

Sandrine Berges
Bilkent University
Proponents of the capabilities approach claim that it should be used to give guidance for the implementation of good constitutional laws. This suggests that it also gives us grounds to support attempts to create or protect constitutions based on something like the capabilities approach. The Turkish Republic claims that in order to protect secularism and the equal status of women, it needs to keep certain Islamic practices away from the public domain. The wearing of the headscarf has been singled out as such a practice, and the Turkish Republic has therefore legislated against headscarf wearing in schools, universities, and government buildings. In consequence many women are forced to choose between religion over education and politics in a way that curtails central human capabilities. Nussbaum claims that the best way to help states resolve the dilemma presented by the conflict between religious choice and other central capabilities is to refer to principles embodied in to the US Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993, which states that a law can burden a person's exercise of religion only when the burden is a furtherance of a compelling state interest. In this paper I consider how this advice partly vindicates the Turkish case and how the solution it yields is in many ways more satisfactory than that of more traditional approaches in political philosophy.
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