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Abaya ban in French schools remains in place

On Thursday France’s highest court remains in force the government’s ban on students in public schools from wearing the abaya, a long, robe-like garment often worn by Muslim women. This decision that rights groups warn can cause more discrimination. The court said in a press release published online:

“As things stand, the judge considers that the ban on wearing these garments does not constitute a serious and manifestly illegal infringement of a fundamental freedom”.

A law passed in 2004 banning the wearing of “flashy” religious symbols in French schools is the legal basis for the ban.

The legal challenge to the ban was brought forward last Friday and arguments from both sides were heard on Tuesday. Action Droits Des Musulmans (ADM), the Muslim rights group that filed the appeal, argued that the ban infringes on “fundamental rights,” such as the right to personal freedom. The court said the wearing of the abaya “was part of a process of religious affirmation, as shown by the comments made during discussions with students”.

Following Thursday’s ruling, ADM claimed in statement the court had “not fulfilled its role of protecting the fundamental freedoms of children, guaranteeing their access to education and respect for their privacy, without any form of discrimination”.

The ADM showed its deep concerns “about the consequences this decision could have on young girls, who are at risk of suffering daily discrimination based on their ethnic and religious appearance, the violence of these dress interrogations and the trauma and harassment they cause, thus hindering their access to education and their success at school.”

French education minister Gabriel Attal, however, praised the court’s ruling, calling it “an important decision for the schools of the Republic.” Attal said on X:

“The purpose of schools is to welcome all students, with the same rights and duties, without discrimination or stigmatization”.

Previously French President Emmanuel Macron protected the ban, which is the brightest in a list of contentious restrictions in the country on clothing associated with Muslims. Macron said the ban was not “stigmatizing” anyone in particular, but “people who push the abaya” are.

France has made a list of controversial bans and restrictions on items of customarily Islamic dress in recent years, which have frequently drawn the ire of Muslim countries and international rights groups. France’s earlier ban on the niqab – full-face veils worn by some Muslim women – violated the human rights of those who wore it, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said in 2018.

Last year lawmakers supported a ban on wearing the hijab and other “conspicuous religious symbols” in sports competitions. The amendment was proposed by the right-wing Les Républicains party, which argued the hijab could risk the safety of athletes wearing it while playing sports.


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