News / Europe

Court Cases Challenge France's Face Veil Ban

FILE - A 31-year-old French veiled woman, no name released, addresses the media in Nantes, western France, April 23, 2010.FILE - A 31-year-old French veiled woman, no name released, addresses the media in Nantes, western France, April 23, 2010.
FILE - A 31-year-old French veiled woman, no name released, addresses the media in Nantes, western France, April 23, 2010.
FILE - A 31-year-old French veiled woman, no name released, addresses the media in Nantes, western France, April 23, 2010.
Lisa Bryant
Two years after becoming law in France, a ban on face-covering Muslim veils is facing a pair of high-profile legal challenges.  The cases in French and European courts may force Paris to roll back the legislation and have ramifications elsewhere in Europe.  

In 2011, France became the first European country to ban face-covering Muslim veils in public places.  The legislation was generally to include items like ski masks as well as veils, but many felt it singled out France's five-million-strong Muslim community, the largest in Europe.  The debate also spread across the region.  Belgium followed France in adopting the ban.  In September, so did a canton in southern Switzerland.

France argues the ban is needed for security reasons and to protect its secular traditions.

But today, France's ban faces legal challenges - one at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and another at a trial that opened this week in the Paris suburb of Versailles.

The plaintiff, a 20-year-old convert to Islam called Cassandra Belin, did not appear at the opening of the Versaille trial.  But her lawyer, Philippe Bataille, questions the constitutionality of the ban, which was passed under the previous conservative government.  

At the time, France's Constitutional Council, the highest legal body, had no objections to the legislation.  But Bataille argues it should reexamine the ban, looking specifically at whether it violates personal freedoms and human dignity enshrined by French and European laws.  

Bataille says the legislation is only acceptable in narrow circumstances - like airport checks - when a covered face could pose a security risk.

For some Muslims like M'Hammed Henniche, General Secretary of the Union of Muslim Associations of the Seine-Saint-Denis region outside Paris, the legislation makes no sense.  

Henniche notes only a small minority of Muslim women in France wear the face veil.  It's unlikely to change their habits, but it has succeeded in riling the larger Muslim community and giving France a bad name.  

Henniche also lists a series of other debates in recent years - against minarets in mosques, street prayers on Fridays, halal meat and whether foreigners should vote.  All have cemented a belief among French Muslims that they are being singled out.

French authorities estimate only a few hundred women have been stopped or fined for wearing veils since the ban came into effect.  Many are repeat offenders.  But the ban continues to spark deep divisions.  In November, the European rights court in Strasbourg agreed to examine it.  

Nicolas Cadene, of the government's Observatory on Secularism, says if the European Court decides the law goes against Europe's human rights convention, France may need to draft new legislation.

Verdicts for both the French and European court challenges will be delivered next year.  And like the veil ban, they are likely to resonate far beyond France's borders.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
December 16, 2013 1:11 PM
Philippe Bataille argues whether the ban on masquerading or total covering of the face in public violates personal freedoms and human dignity enshrined in French and European laws. Here I cannot say yes of no, because I do not live in Europe and may not understand all the twists and aberrations out there that are collectively referred to as human rights. However, we all agree that a total nakedness on the streets is a violation of human rights, even if it is the choice of the person so undressed.

Likewise, not just for the security challenge it presents, we should agree that it is even more dehumanizing to be bagged inside a leather sack, blanket, or any clothing materials, though it may be somebody's choice, but mostly born out of extreme and sometimes misplaced religious attachment that is capable of causing a breach of the peace, unhealthy rivalry and violence. Religion should be private a thing, unless Europe is about to become like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, etc - one of those totalitarian Islamist countries where everybody is uniformed otherwise one is termed an infidel.

As it is in those Muslim countries where one goes and obeys their rules - no bible, no walking on the street with your woman, and such like, why should Muslims not obey other peoples' laws and MUST change same to suit them? To change the ban on those coverages should be a greater violation of the human rights of the French and European citizens who chose in the first place to have a secular constitution. Then it is a secular constitution which everybody should respect and obey while those who choose to cover up themselves should do so within the ambit or jurisdiction of their religion, or an Islamist constitution so that those who do not wear a hijab should understand that they should but are permitted to avoid it if they choose not to. For an approval of that dressing is a violation of secular rights of the Europeans.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs