The highest court in Germany ruled on Thursday, Feb. 27, that a ban prohibiting Muslim trainee lawyers from wearing headscarves in court, in the state of Hesse, is constitutional on the basis of religious neutrality. The ruling is one of many that bans Muslim headscarves in Germany. Each German state has different laws regarding headscarves. However, full-face veils, or burqas, are banned in most public institutions. But now the bans are targeting Muslim women who wear hijabs and niqabs.
“With this groundbreaking decision, the court sent an important signal in favor of the ideological neutrality of state institutions. Especially in today’s society . . . the state order must place more value than ever on its ideological neutrality. This is only possible if the state parties to judicial proceedings are not allowed to show religious insignia,” Eva Kühne-Hörmann, Hesse’s Minister of Justice, said in regard to the ruling.
The dispute over headscarves isn’t just in the courtroom, but in schools as well.
“The burqa and the niqab are, for me, symbols of oppression,” Katharina Fegebank, the deputy mayor for Hamburg, tweeted in response to the idea of schools banning headscarves. The original tweet in German was translated by the German edition of The Local.
Stating that burqas and niqabs are oppressive without consulting the women who wear them, undermine the autonomy of these women. Muslim women have the right to choose whether they wear a headscarf or not. Muslim women have the right to choose what practices are best for them. Forcing women to not wear headscarves is not maintaining religious neutrality in public settings, it is taking away their right to religious freedom.
Debates over whether headscarves should be permitted in Germany have been long-standing, but have made a resurgence in recent years. In 2011, neighboring country France became the first European country to ban anything that covers the face, including niqabs and burqas.
There are multiple types of Muslim headscarves. The three most common are hijabs, niqabs, and burqas. Hijabs cover the head and the neck. Niqabs cover the entire face but have a slit for the eyes. Burqas cover the face completely and have a mesh screen so women are able to see.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2016 that she would support a burqa ban in schools, courts, and federal buildings, according to BBC.
Half of Germany’s states ban teachers from wearing headscarves in schools. The state of Bavaria prohibited full-face veils in schools, universities, polling sites, and government offices in 2017. Now, the state of Hesse is joining the group of states that ban veils in court.
These rulings not only oppose international human rights standards by infringing on individuals’ religious freedoms and their equality before the law but further marginalize Muslim women. Muslim women should not be told what they can and cannot wear on the basis of religious neutrality, when states, such as Bavaria, require that Christian crosses be on the exterior of all government buildings.