EU Court of Human Rights upholds France’s full-body veil ban

French ban on the wearing in public of clothing designed to conceal one’s face does not breach the Convention

Remember a while back France banned full-body veils being worn? That stuff was appealed and went to the EU Court of Human Rights, who (screwed up and) upheld the ban.

French ban on the wearing in public of clothing designed to conceal one’s face does not breach the Convention

In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case of S.A.S. v. France (application no. 43835/11), which is final, the European Court of Human Rights held,

by a majority, that there had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and no violation of Article 9 (right to respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion);

unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention combined with Articles 8 or 9.

The case concerned the complaint of a French national, who is a practising Muslim, that she is no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil in public following the entry into force, on 11 April 2011, of a law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public places (Law no. 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010).

The Court emphasised that respect for the conditions of “living together” was a legitimate aim for the measure at issue and that, particularly as the State had a lot of room for manoeuvre (“a wide margin of appreciation”) as regards this general policy question on which there were significant differences of opinion, the ban imposed by the Law of 11 October 2010 did not breach the Convention.

Principal facts

The applicant is a French national who was born in 1990 and lives in France. She is a devout Muslim and in her submissions she said that she wore the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions. As she explained, the burqa is a full-body covering including a mesh over the face, and the niqab is a full-face veil leaving an opening only for the eyes. The applicant also emphasised that neither her husband nor any other member of her family put pressure on her to dress in this manner. She added that she wore the niqab in public and in private, but not systematically. She was thus content not to wear the niqab in certain circumstances but wished to be able to wear it when she chose to do so. Lastly, her aim was not to annoy others but to feel at inner peace with herself.

Note that the ruling only prohibits full-body veils, so head scarves such as hijabs are still fine. Nonetheless, this ruling IMO is flawed.

First off, note that the reason being cited isn’t security, which is a valid concern in certain cases: for example, inside a bank, having full facial covering makes IDing that person difficult (in case of a robbery or the like). However, the reasons being cited are about protecting public order and the like…which don’t really make sense.

Beyond the classic point of why should the government have the right to choose what you wear, one of the arguments brought up in favor of the ban is the idea that the ban helps stop the restriction of women’s freedoms. However, there are plenty of Muslim women who voluntarily choose to wear full-body veils…so you’re trying to stop the restriction of women’s freedoms…by restricting women’s freedoms. Yea. Slight issue there.


One comment

  1. This is a very interesting argument. Restricting women’s rights is obviously objectionable, but this would prohibit face covering for everyone, if I’m not mistaken (I’m thinking about rowdy teenagers who wear maks would be included in this).
    This is reminiscent of the resurgence of the veil in Egypt in the 1970s. Egyptian government tried to enforce a ban on head coverings on elementary school girls, but was met with strong opposition first from the girls then from their parents to protect their freedom to veil. This was concurrent with political uprisings at that time between Islamism, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the government.
    Is this opressive move by the government be an attempt to stop any stronghold Islam might have in France, or the spread of Islam in France (to it’s government)? If so, do you think it is justified for France to try to stop it’s government from following Egypt’s (Islamist) history?

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