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France veil ban goes into effect

The controversial French law [materials, in French] that bans the wearing of full Muslim veils, including burqas, nigabs and other facial coverings in public took effect [implementation circular, in French] on Monday. Pursuant to the law, people caught wearing facial coverings in public can be fined 150 euros (USD $215) and/or ordered to take a citizenship class. In addition, anyone convicted of forcing a someone else to cover their face may be fined up to 30,000 euro and jailed for one year [AFP report, in French], and the penalties double if the incident involves a minor. The ban affects citizens, residents and tourists alike, and extends to all public places [Le Figaro backgrounder, in French], including airports, hospitals, government offices and even places of worship that are open to the public. However, France's Constitutional Council [official website] has stated this prohibition cannot "unduly ... restrict the exercise of religious freedom in places of worship are open to the public." On Monday two women wearing nigab were arrested [Al Jazeera report] in Paris after participating in a protest against the new law outside Notre Dame Cathedral. Police reported the women were arrested not for wearing a face covering, but rather participating in a unsanctioned protest. Five million Muslims reside in France, but it is believe that fewer than 2,000 women [Reuters report] wear a type of head covering that would be banned under French law.

In October, the French Constitutional Council ruled that the ban conforms with the Constitution [JURIST report]. The bill was approved by the National Assembly in July and by the Senate [JURIST reports] in September. Legislation banning the use of Islamic burqas has been a point of contention recently in many European countries. In October, 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.

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