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.

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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.

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