France reaffirms its limits on Muslim headscarves and full-face veils

November 27, 2013

Nayet (C), wearing a Burqa, and Kenza Drider (L), a French Muslim of North African descent, wearing a niqab, are seen after their release from a police station in Paris April 11, 2011. France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force today, exposing anyone who wears the Muslim niqab or burqa in public to fines of 150 euros ($216) and lessons in French citizenship. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

A French appeals court, ruling in a hotly debated religious rights case, on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of a Muslim daycare worker for wearing a headscarf at a creche that demanded strict neutrality from its employees.

The Paris court’s decision was announced at the same time as French lawyers defended the country’s ban on full-face veils in public before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The two cases have divided French public opinion for years, with the bans enjoying wide support in public opinion but being denounced by many Muslims as discriminatory.

France has both the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, and some of the continent’s most restrictive laws about expressions of faith in public.

“Today a republican institution has reaffirmed the strength of the principle of secularism,” Richard Malka, the lawyer for the Baby Loup daycare centre, said following the decision.

The Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a Muslim rights group, denounced the ruling as “a veritable judicial scandal” that meant “nobody is protected against being judged by one’s religious, ethnic or social origin.”

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