Saturday, December 15, 2012

U.N. Human Rights Panel Says France Violated Sikh Student's Religious Freedom Rights In Banning Turban

In a press release yesterday, United Sikhs reported on a decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee holding that France violated a 17-year old Sikh student's freedom of religion protected under Art. 18 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights when it expelled him from school for wearing a keski (small turban).  The lycée took the action based on Art. L.141-5-1 of France's Education Code which enforces the principle of secularism (laïcité) by providing: "In public primary schools, secondary schools and lycées, the wearing of symbols or clothing by which pupils manifest their religious affiliation in a conspicuous manner is forbidden."  The U.N. decision, Communication 1852/2008 was adopted by the Human Rights Committee on Nov. 1, and published on Dec. 4, 2012. It reads in part:
for Sikhs males, wearing a keski or turban is not simply a religious symbol, but an essential component of their identity and a mandatory religious precept.... [T]he prohibition of wearing religious symbols affects only symbols and clothing which conspicuously display religious affiliation, does not extend to discreet religious symbols and the Council of State takes decisions in this regard on a case by case basis.  However, the Committee is of the view that the State party has not furnished compelling evidence that by wearing his  keski  the author would have posed a threat to the rights and freedoms of other pupils or to order at the school.... [T]he State party imposed this harmful sanction on the author, not because his personal conduct created any concrete risk, but solely because of his inclusion in a broad category of persons defined by their religious conduct....  [T]he  State party has not shown how the sacrifice of those persons’ rights is either necessary or proportionate to the benefits achieved.
(See prior related posting.)