[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights [official website] ruled [judgment; press release, PDF] Tuesday that France’s face covering ban is permissible under European law. In SAS v. France [video, in French] the court ruled 15-2 that the ban [text, in French], which became effective in 2011, complies with all articles of the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [text] and, as a result, does not violate the respondent’s freedom of religion. The respondent was a Muslim who wore a niqab and a burqa, Islamic clothing articles that cover the face, as a way of expressing her faith. According to the court:
Furthermore … by prohibiting everyone from wearing clothing designed to conceal the face in public places, the respondent State has to a certain extent restricted the reach of pluralism. … However, for their part, the Government indicated that it was a question of responding to a practice that the State deemed incompatible … with the ground rules of social communication and more broadly the requirements of “living together.” From that perspective, the respondent State is seeking to protect a principle of interaction between individuals, which in its view is essential for the expression not only of pluralism, but also of tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society. It can thus be said that the question whether or not it should be permitted to wear the full-face veil in public places constitutes a choice of society.
Two judges dissented, finding that “the criminalisation of the wearing of a full-face veil is a measure which is disproportionate to the aim of protecting the idea of ‘living together.”
A French court upheld the ban [JURIST report] in January. Since the French burqa ban took effect, many other countries tried to implement a similar ban. In February 2013 the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] struck down [JURIST report] a city law banning the wearing of burqas. In July 2011 Belgium’s burqa ban came into effect a few months after the French burqa ban took effect [JURIST report] in April 2011.