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January 08, 2014

French Court Dismisses Veil Ban Challenge

by Lisa Bryant

A court in France has rejected a challenge to the country's controversial veil ban law and sentenced a woman for flouting it and insulting police. But the story isn't over: Europe's highest court will hear another challenge to the legislation.
 
The court in Versailles on Wednesday fined Muslim convert Cassandra Belin 150 euros - or just over $200 - and gave her a one-month suspended sentence for wearing the face-covering niqab in public and for insulting police who ticketed her.  The scuffle between Belin, her husband and police made headlines in France last year, and sparked riots in the Paris suburb of Trappes.
 
The court also dismissed a petition by Belin's lawyer Philippe Bataille challenging the constitutionality of France's 2011 law that bars the wearing of most face covers in public. The legislation is broad, but some believe it takes aim at France's 5 million-strong Muslim community - even though only a small minority of women wear the niqab.
 
In a telephone interview, lawyer Bataille said it was possible he would appeal both judgments, but that depended on his client. Under French law, he has 10 days to file an appeal.
 
Bataille said it was a shame that Belin never appeared at her trial to explain why she wore the face veil.  But he said that she and other niqab wearers were afraid to go out in public because of the ban.
 
The verdict marks a new victory for the government, as it seeks to enforce the face-cover ban in the name of French secularism. Last year, a Paris appeals court ruled that a private nursery school was right in firing a staff member who refused to remove her Muslim headscarf at work.
 
But the ban faces another and more serious challenge this year at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Bataille said the fate of his client partly depends on that court's ruling, which he said will likely be handed down next month.