French lawmakers vote to ban full face veils in public

By Reuters Staff
July 13, 2010

national assemblyMuslim women could be fined for wearing full face veils in public in France under a bill approved overwhelmingly on Tuesday by the lower house of parliament. Offenders would be fined 150 euros ($189) or required to take part in a citizenship class. The bill, which critics say stigmatizes immigrants, bans people “from wearing, in a public place, garments designed to cover the face.”

(Photo: Veil ban debate in the National Assembly in Paris, July 13, 2010/Benoit Tessier)

Forcing someone to cover their face would be punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a 30,000 euro fine. The law does not apply if the face is covered for carnivals or artistic events.

In the vote, 335 members of parliament approved the ban, with just one against. Opposition socialist and Green lawmakers abstained. The legislation still has to be vetted by the Constitutional Council, France’s highest constitutional authority, and approved by the Senate.

Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the approval was a success for French republican values of liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism.  However, the Council of State, France’s top legal advisory body, has already queried whether a ban is compatible with the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Council of Europe has also said it is opposed to bans on veils, and that they deny women a basic right.

vote(Photo: National Assembly vote tally, July 13, 2010/Benoit Tessier)

Read the full story here and read a factbox on policies on Muslim scarves and veils in Europe. Also check out a recent poll showing strong support for veil bans in several European countries.  As Sara Silvestri, a  lecturer in religion and international politics at City University in London, put it in an initial reaction:

“These mixed feelings about how to respond to the full veil are symptomatic of a not-fully-explicable uneasiness with Islam and the growing religious plurality of Europe. Behind this is probably an inability to deal with bigger issues such as the consequences of globalisation, migration, the financial crisis, and a crisis of national identities. Places in which the veil was not an issue until recently have now been drawn into the debate … The “non-issue” of the veil has been imported and become one that polarises people.”

University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who is critical of plans to outlaw full veils, posted her refutations of the five most common arguments for a ban here.

What do you think? Is the planned French ban justified?

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[...] French lawmakers vote to ban full face veils in public which is unpopular with their Muslim population. It comes with the equivalent of $189 fine or a citizenship class. [...]