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Bangladesh court rules against mandatory religious clothing

The Bangladeshi Supreme Court [official website] ruled Sunday that workplaces and schools cannot force individuals to wear religious clothing such as veils and skull caps. The court found that wearing religious clothing is an individual choice and cannot be made mandatory [AFP report], and requiring individuals to wear religious clothing is a human rights violation [AsiaNews report] in contravention of the Bangladeshi Constitution [text]. The ruling comes after an incident in Northern Bangladesh where a college principal was forcing female students to wear veils. In April, the high court ruled that educational institutions could not force female employees to wear veils. The ruling came after an incident where a government official chastised a female headmistress for not wearing a scarf or veil during a staff meeting. Bangladeshi human rights groups applauded this most recent decision, while others argued it is an attack on Islamic values.

The Bangladeshi high court's decision comes in the midst of other countries attempting to formally ban Islamic burqas [JURIST news archive] and other full face veils. Last month, the French National Assembly [official website, in French] voted 336-1 to approve a bill [JURIST report] that would make it illegal to wear burqas in public. The bill would require women who choose to wear the veil in public to show police their face and, if they refuse, they can be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a $185 USD fine. Spain's lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] rejected a similar proposal [JURIST report] to ban the burqa by a vote of 183-162 last month. UK Immigration Minister Damian Green [official profile] indicated last month that Britain's coalition government would not seek to support a similar ban in the UK [JURIST report]. In May, Australian state lawmakers voted 26-3 against a ban [JURIST report]. In April, the Belgian House of Representatives [official website, in French] voted 136-0 to approve a burqa ban [JURIST report]. European Parliament Vice President Silvana Koch-Mehrin [official website, in German] expressed her support for a continent-wide ban [JURIST report] in May, calling the face coverings a "mobile prison."

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