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German Headscarf Bans May Be Unconstitutional, Lawyers Say

Bloomberg, USA
Apr. 28, 2004
Claudia Rach • Thursday April 29, 2004

April 28 (Bloomberg) — German state laws banning Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in publicly run schools may be unconstitutional as they contravene the principle of religious equality, lawyers said. Lower Saxony today became the second German state to pass a headscarf ban.

The Hijab

“Hijab is the modern name for the practice of dressing modestly, which all practicing Muslims past the age of puberty are instructed to do in their holy book, the Qur’an. No precise dress code for men or women is set out in the Qur’an, and various Islamic scholars have interpreted the meaning of hijab in different ways.”
- Wikipedia

Today’s vote by lawmakers in Lower Saxony came after the Baden-Wuerttemberg parliament banned headscarves from state schools earlier this month. The legislation was introduced after Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled in September that Muslim teachers can wear a headscarf in state schools as long as state laws don’t forbid it.

“The state is taking a risk when it treats the Christian religion differently,” said Monika Boehm, a law professor at Marburg University. “The different treatment of religions will probably be overturned by the constitutional court.”

The debate about headscarves as religious symbols began when Baden-Wuerttemberg banned Fereshta Ludin, a German of Afghan origin, from working as a teacher in a state school because she wears a scarf. The state said it violated a requirement that teachers are neutral toward religion. Ludin fought the decision, arguing that the German constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.

Berlin Plans

Legislators in other states, including Hesse, Bavaria, and Saarland, have also put forward draft legislation to ban headscarves in their classrooms. The state government in Berlin plans to go a step further and exclude all religious symbols in schools.

“This is a safer variation of the law which might not be overturned in court,” said Alexis Komorrowski, who teaches law at Freiburg University.

“If equality is being demanded, then it is more than fair to ban all religious symbols,” said Salim Abdullah, the director of the statistics department of the Soest, Germany-based Islam Archive, the oldest Islamic institution in any German-speaking country.

In France, lawmakers last month approved legislation that from September will ban pupils at state schools from wearing “ostentatious” religious garb, such as headscarves for Muslims and skullcaps for Jews. Thousands took to the streets in February to protest the ban.

Muslims make up the biggest religious minority in Germany, an otherwise predominantly Christian nation. Their number has risen to 3.1 million since the early 1960s, when the first Turkish workers came to live in the country, according to Abdullah. Today German Muslims come from 43 nations, including Iran, Morocco and Afghanistan, according to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

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