The French parliament passed a law Tuesday prohibiting wearing a full-face veil in public, meaning a ban will come into force early next year if it is not overturned by senior judges.
The Senate passed the bill by 246 votes to one. The bill already cleared the lower house in July, and will now be reviewed by the Constitutional Council, which has a month to confirm its legality.
The text makes no mention of Islam, but President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government promoted the law as a means to protect women from being forced to wear Muslim full-face veils such as the burqa or the niqab.
Once in force, the law provides for a six-month period of “education” to explain to women already wearing a face veil that they face arrest and a fine if they continue to do so in any public space.
A woman who chooses to defy the ban will receive a fine of 150 euros (195 dollars) or a course of citizenship lessons. A man who forces a woman to go veiled will be fined 30,000 euros and serve a jail term.
“This is not about security or religion, but respecting our republican principles,” Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie declared before the vote.
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“France, land of secularism, guarantees respect for all religions (but) hiding the face under a face-covering veil is against public social order, whether it is forced or voluntary,” she said.
Some other European countries are mulling similar bans, but critics of the law in its proposed form believe it is too broadly framed and that it will eventually be overturned as unconstitutional and discriminatory.