The European Court of Human Rights upheld the French government’s ban on wearing the burka or niqab in public, saying the law passed in 2010 does not breach the human rights of Muslim women. In early July, the Strasbourg Court ruled against the appeal of a devout French Muslim woman who claimed her right to respect for private and family life had been violated by the law. The court said there had been no breach of the prohibition of discrimination nor infringement to her freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
France is not only home to one of the largest Muslim communities in Western Europe but also known for having some of the most restrictive laws related to expressing faith in public. In 2010, it was the first European country to ban veils in an attempt to ensure faces are uncovered and identifiable in public. Belgium followed suit soon after.
According to France’s law, introduced by former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy and continued to be backed by the current socialist administration under President Francois Hollande, wearing a burka or niqab in public can lead to a fine of €150 or lessons about French citizenship. While passing the law, authorities claimed that religious veils are humiliating for women, not in compliance with France’s secular traditions and most importantly a security risk as they hinder the proper identification of individuals. While the European court agreed with the French government’s argument that the ban has been placed for the sake of social cohesion, it rejected the aspect of public safety, saying the ban was not necessary to achieve that.
The anonymous woman who appealed against the French government’s ruling, identifies as a devout Muslim and wears the veil in accordance with her culture, religious faith and personal convictions. She insists that neither her spouse nor any of her other family members force her to dress this way. The 2010 ban led to widespread tensions across France, with riots taking place in Paris after a man attacked a police officer for stopping his wife who was wearing a full-face veil.
The ruling from Strasbourg Court came soon after one of the highest courts in France upheld the sacking of a kindergarten worker who wanted to wear a headscarf to work. Religious symbols like crucifixes, headscarves and skullcaps are banned from state schools in France.
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