The French Constitutional Council [official website, in French] ruled [judgment, PDF; in French; press release, in French] Thursday that a bill [materials, in French] making it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive], niqab or other full face veils in public, conforms with the Constitution. Under the legislation, women who wear the veil can be required by police to show their face, and, if they refuse, they can be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a USD $185 fine. The legislation also makes it a crime to force a woman to cover her face, with a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of USD $18,555. The bill was approved by the National Assembly in July and by the Senate [JURIST reports] in September. Those that oppose the legislation, such as Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website], may still challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has the ability to render a binding opinion on France. It is thought the law will come into force [CNN report] sometime this spring.
Legislation banning the use of Islamic burqas has been a point of contention recently in many countries. Last week, Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] said that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. In August, Austria's conservative Freedom Party [official website, in German] called for a special vote [JURIST report] on whether to ban face veils and the construction of minarets, two of the most visible symbols of the Islamic faith. In July, Spain's lower house of parliament rejected a proposal [JURIST report] to ban the burqa and other full face veils by a vote of 183 to 162 with 2 abstaining. Also in July, UK Immigration Minister Damian Green [official profile] indicated in an interview that Britain's coalition government would not seek or support a British law banning the burqa or other face coverings in public. Green stated that banning the burqa would not be consistent with British society, where mutual respect for differences among cultures is important.