French Council Against Total Ban on Burqa

Posted by on Mar 30th, 2010 and filed under Opinion, Recent Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

PARIS -France’s highest administrative body warned Tuesday that a total prohibition on full-body Islamic veils in public risks being found unconstitutional in a setback to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s goal of an all-out ban.

Even a limited ban on the full-body veil would be difficult to enforce, the Council of State said in a study of the legal possibilities for a broad application of a ban on burqa-like garments that was commissioned by Prime Minister Francois Fillon earlier this year.

A total ban risks violating the French constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the report said.

However, the council did say that rules requiring the face to be uncovered could be justified in some situations, for security reasons or when knowing the age or sex of the person is important.

The report is the latest development in Sarkozy’s efforts to ban face-covering veils after he told the French in June that such garb was “not welcome” in France.

A parliamentary commission examined the issue for six months last year before making 15 recommendations in a report in January. That panel refrained from recommending a ban on face-covering veils.

Determined not to give up, Fillon asked the Council of State, the body which determines whether laws conform to the French constitution, to further study the issue as a precaution to make sure that any possible bill would be legal even before it was voted by parliament.

The council determined that “no indisputable legal basis for a general and absolute ban on wearing a complete face-covering veil as such could be found,” the report said. The council also concluded that a ban on covering the face regardless of the type of dress also would run into legal hurdles.

Wearing a full-body veil already is forbidden in some cases: for public servants exercising their duties, in schools or in businesses where it would interfere with work, for example.

Beyond that, the council found that presenting an uncovered face could be required and would have a solid legal foundation in other cases: including situations involving public security; in places where the sale of certain items requires age verification such as courts, polling stations, city hall or the exits of schools when children are being picked up, among others.

An uncovered face could be required in hospitals, public toilets and swimming pools where it is necessary to know the sex of the person entering, the report said. Establishments that sell alcohol, cigarettes and guns could also be required to sell only to people whose faces are not covered, the report said. Appearance in public with a covered face also could be banned in certain train stations, department stores during the holiday season, fairs and street markets, the report said.

The full-body veil issue is divisive in France, with many conservatives such as Sarkozy favoring a very restrictive ban, while others say women should be free to wear what they want.


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