What European Courts Say About Full-Face Veil Bans

Muslim women could now actually face jail time and fines if they wear burkas in these public places

by Leah Jessen | Updated 17 Jul 2017 at 12:44 PM

Human-rights judges in Europe affirmed that women out in public areas of Belgium must remove their face coverings.

The European court system this week upheld a Belgian law banning full-face veils worn in public places.

"In adopting the provisions in question," the court said, "the Belgian State had sought to respond to a practice that it considered to be incompatible, in Belgian society, with social communication and more generally the establishment of human relations, which were indispensable for life in society."

The veil ban is necessary for a democratic society, seven judges with the European Court of Human Rights decided July 11, after ongoing lawsuits involving Muslim women were brought to their docket.

A June 2011 law in Belgium bans the wearing of clothing that partially or totally covers the face. Two Muslim women sued, saying their religious freedoms were in violation. The judges at the Court of Human Rights unanimously settled the case, Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium.

Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar had appealed, saying Belgium's ban prevents them from wearing a traditional Muslim niqab and thus living out their faith. The niqab covers the entire face, with just small slits for the eyes.

Oussar alleged that the law forced her to stay home. Belcacemi, afraid to receive jail time or fines, eventually played by the rules and took off her veil in public.

Violating the law can result in a sentence of up to seven days in jail.

Related: Muslim Headscarves in Europe: The Battle Heats Up

"The court agreed that the ban sought to guarantee the concept of 'living together' and the 'protection of the rights and freedoms of others,'" as the BBC noted.

In a similar case, Dakir v. Belgium — which the court also decided last week — a Muslim woman complained about a 2008 veil ban adopted by three Belgian municipalities.

"The court found there had been no violation of her right to private life, freedom of religion, or discrimination laws, but that Belgium had infringed her right of access to a court when the Conseil d'État ruled an initial application to annul the ban inadmissible," The Independent reported. The court ordered the government to pay Dakir.

Related: Bavaria Moves Toward Full-Face Veil Ban

Other European countries, including France, have adopted similar bans. As a result, a contentious debate has been ongoing.

In 2004, France first banned religious symbols (such as headscarves) worn in public schools. French law made it illegal starting in April 2011 to wear full-face veils or similar coverings anywhere in public. France became the first country to implement this ban.

In March, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers can implement employee dress codes barring all religious symbols — including headscarves — in the workplace.

Some politicians have cited security threats as an argument in favor of banning the garments. In December 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a partial public ban on burqas and niqabs.

  1. islam
  2. religion
  3. ban
  4. belgium
  5. brussels
  6. court
  7. faith
  8. headscarf
  9. human-rights
  10. veil
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