French TV host asks Jewish guest why he wears a kippah in public

A French TV news show host asked his Jewish guest why he publicly identified his religion by wearing a kippah.

An Israeli professor, who was invited as a guest to a French TV news show, was asked by the host why he publicly identifies his religion by wearing a kippah. The clip then went viral, reports The Jerusalem Post.

“Many people are asking, why does a professor wear a religious symbol in our studio,” said the host of CNews to Dr Cyrille Cohen, head of immunology at Bar Ilan University, who was invited to the show to discuss vaccine effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus.

“For transparency, I wear it every day. I did not put it on especially for this show,” responded Dr Cohen to the blunt question.

However, French-Jewish journalist Elisabeth Levy, who was also a guest on the panel, pushed further.

“You understand, don’t you, that our non-religious way of life is discrete. It’s not against religion, but you should keep your religion to yourself,” she said.

“My name is Cohen! Why would you want me to ‘keep my religion to myself’? I’m coming from Israel,” Cohen responded in exasperation.

A clip of the video quickly went viral and immediately received strong condemnation on Twitter. “Is this 1930s Europe?” tweeted Israeli journalist Emily Schrader.

The brief exchange between the parties illustrates the different perspectives on religious expression in France, the United States and elsewhere in the western world.

“Laicite,” or secularism, rather than religious freedom, is enshrined in the first article of the French constitution, which also protects the free exercise of religion. It is commonly interpreted as implying a separation of private and public life – in the latter, it is discouraged to show one’s religious belief openly. However, religious minorities have complained that the public display of Christianity receives gentler criticism than other faiths.

“If a priest came in here, would you ask him to take off his cross, if the pope, would you have him take off his cross and head covering?” Cohen said in the exchange.

Since 2004, wearing personal items displaying religion, including crosses and kippahs, has been banned in French public schools. Among others, French Jews also came up against the government’s strict adherence to secularism.