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Veiled woman in Paris.

Veiled woman in Paris. | Foto: Reuters

Publicado 13 julio 2014


Muslim citizens of France have seen their community well covered by the news over the past two weeks, with the courts interferring in three cases related to the banning of the veil in public spaces.

On July 5, the right-wing mayor of Wissous, in Essonne, banned two veiled women from a summer festival, justifying his decision by referring to a 2004 law prohibiting the veil in public schools. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France took the case to the court of Versailles, which forced the mayor to remove the ban on July 12. 

This is the first time an elected representative has extensively interpreted the law to apply it to a local regulation, but in the past other politicians - including current President Francois Hollande - have advocated for the extension of the ban to private spaces. Further, two weeks preceding the Wissous incident, a French top court rules for the first time along similar lines.

On June 25, the top court of Cassation ruled on the Baby Loup case, a judicial process begun in December 2008, confirming the dismissal of a Muslim employee because she had refused to remove her veil in the private day care center Baby Loup.

This final ruling came as a surprise, as it was contrary to the recommendation of the court´s social chamber: in March 2013, the chamber stated that her dismissal represented “discrimination because of her religious convictions”, because the day care was private. In France since 11 October 2010, wearing a veil covering the whole face is prohibited in public spaces.

But eventually the Cassation court decided to support the employer´s argument – that its internal rules explicitly demanded “religious neutrality” from its employees. The court stated that “the principles of freedom of conscience and religion of each of the staff members cannot stand in the way of secularism and neutrality, which are applicable to all of the day care´s activities.”

In other words, according to the court, an activity involving young children was sufficient reason to impose restrictions to the principle of freedom of conscience, even in a private space.

The employee announced that she will appeal the decision at the European Human Rights Court. However, the latter had ruled on a similar affair on July 1 in a way that would not seem favorable to her position.

In April 2011, a Muslim French woman anonymously requested the European Human Rights Court to rule on the 2010 law which bans the covering of one´s face in a public space. Although the French state argued then to the court that the law did not specifically target Muslim veils, but also hoods or helmets, the court rejected this “security” argument, and confirmed the law on the ground that it preserved community togetherness in France. 

There are six million Muslims in France, out of 67 million people, and only 1,900 women wear the hijab, according to an research commission of the national assembly held in 2009.

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