July 12, 2014

European Court Upholds France’s Ban on Face Veils

               ©2014 Religion News Service

Europe’s top human rights court has rejected a
petition by a young Muslim woman who claimed France’s 2010 veil ban violated
her rights to freedom of expression and religion and amounted to

The French law bans most face-covering garments
in public for security reasons. That includes the Islamic face-covering veil,
or niqab, which authorities argue violates France’s secularist creed and
women’s rights.

While a minority of women wear the face veils—fewer than
2,000, the government estimates, out of France’s roughly 2.5 million Muslim
women —many Muslims feel the legislation unfairly singles them out.

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based European Court
of Human Rights sparked swift reactions, with Amnesty International calling it
“a profound retreat for the freedom of expression and religion.”

Maryam Borghee, a Paris-based researcher on
radical Islam who authored a book on Muslime women adopting the niqab, also
expressed concern. “These laws reinforce a sense of marginalization and
possibly even radicalization among these young people, even if they’re a
minority” of Muslims.

But Dalil Boubakeur, head of the state-backed
French Council of the Muslim Faith, said he had no problem with the law. “The
word niqab doesn’t figure in the Quran as a religious prescription,” he said. “There
may be some people who maintain it’s a religious prescription, but for me, it
isn’t an obligation.”

Besides France, Belgium has also adopted the veil
ban, as have parts of Switzerland, Spain and Italy. In France, several court
decisions have similarly affirmed the ban’s legality.