The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Thursday struck down [judgement, PDF, in Spanish; press release, in Spanish] a city ban on wearing veils over the face in municipal buildings, finding that the law infringes on religious freedom. The city of Lleida, in Catalonia, was the first Spanish city to impose such a ban, but only about 3 percent of its population is Muslim. The city law was previously upheld [JURIST report] by a Spanish appeals court which found that the law was permissible for identification and security purposes. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that the city of Lleida had not adequately established that the ban on veils would improve security and that the law prevented individuals from practicing religious traditions.
Burqas and other symbols of Islam have been a controversial subject in Europe. In July the Netherlands announced that a ban on burqas would go forward [JURIST report] later this year. Proponents of the Netherlands ban said the purpose was to stop people from being able to commit crimes and remain undetected by concealing their identities and covering their faces. Belgium officially banned [JURIST report] burqas in July 2011. France's ban on burqas took effect [JURIST report] in April 2011. Swiss voters approved a proposal to ban the construction of minarets [JURIST report] in November 2009, and the vote was subsequently upheld [JURIST report] in the European Court of Human Rights [official website] in July 2011. Some commentators have suggested that the rationales behind the European burqa bans are weak [JURIST op-ed] and that the true purpose of the bills is societal discomfort.