Tuesday, July 01, 2014

European Court Upholds France's Ban Wearing Burqa In Public

The European Court of Human Rights today, in a Grand Chamber judgment, upheld France's ban on Muslim women wearing the full-face veil in public.  In S.A.S. v. France, (ECHR, July 1, 2014), the court by a vote of 15-2 held that France's law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public places (and thus barring the burqa and niqab) does not violate either Art. 8 (respect for private and family life) or Art. 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court unanimously held that the law does not violate Art. 14 (discrimination). The Court concluded that the ban can be justified as a means of guaranteeing the conditions of "living together." The Court said in part:
[W]hile it is true that the scope of the ban is broad, because all places accessible to the public are concerned (except for places of worship), the Law of 11 October 2010 does not affect the freedom to wear in public any garment or item of clothing – with or without a religious connotation – which does not have the effect of concealing the face. The Court is aware of the fact that the impugned ban mainly affects Muslim women who wish to wear the full-face veil. It nevertheless finds it to be of some significance that the ban is not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it conceals the face.....
... [T]he respondent State is seeking to protect a principle of interaction between individuals, which in its view is essential for the expression not only of pluralism, but also of tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society .... In such circumstances, the Court has a duty to exercise a degree of restraint in its review of Convention compliance, since such review will lead it to assess a balance that has been struck by means of a democratic process within the society in question.
The Court also issued a press release summarizing the decision. CNN reports on the decision. [Thanks to Paul de Mello for the lead.]