European Court of Human Rights upholds French ban on full-face veil

Jul 3, 2014

By National Secular Society

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a French law banning the wearing of the full-face veil in public, ruling that the law does not breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

A 24-year-old French woman, identified by her initials ‘SAS’, had argued that the ban on wearing the veil in public contravened her human rights and led to discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion and ethnic origin.

The French law, which came into effect in 2010, prohibits the concealment of one’s face, which includes the wearing of the niqab, in public places. People found to be contravening this law can be fined up to €150 and be made to take a citizenship class. Anyone found to be coercing a woman into covering her face risks severe penalties and anyone who wishes to enforce the ban can legitimately ask people covering their faces to cease doing so, and can take them to the local police station or magistrate if they refuse.

The applicant had argued that the French ban contravened a number of her human rights according to the European Convention, such as her right to respect for private and family life (Article 8), her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9), her right to freedom of expression, assembly and association (Article 10 and 11), and her right to freedom from discrimination (Article 14).

She said that she wore the veil willingly, both in public and private, but not all the time and did not experience any coercion. She also said she was willing to remove the veil for security reasons, but other than that wished to be able to wear it when she chose to do so.

The Court rejected her arguments, instead emphasising that respect for the conditions of “living together” was a legitimate aim for the French State to pursue and that its ban fell within this remit. The Court ruled that the State had “a wide margin of appreciation” regarding it general policy on the matter.

France had argued that the ban is based on “the legitimate goals it pursues, including public security” and that full-face veils are “intrinsically discriminatory against women”.

32 comments on “European Court of Human Rights upholds French ban on full-face veil

  • Is someone here familiar with the whole of the public security argument used by the French? Are other countries banning the veil? Planning this?

    I am torn here if the security thing is not strong.

    Of course wearing this veil is religious silliness but individual freedom can be silly. Just not dangerous to others.

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  • 2
    Miserablegit says:

    This will always be a battle over peoples right to choose to wear such clothing items and the states right to insist on its right that everybody should be seen, even if it is only by security cameras. Personally women wearing full veils do not bother me just so long as these are not used as an excuse to cover the face where anyone else has to expose theirs.

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  • 3
    old-toy-boy says:

    Good news! In you face… (opps, that came out wrong). But seriously, since when did this woman and her religion give a damm about human rights? What does Islam care about “discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion and ethnic origin.” how would they they feel if I insited on the right to wear a bikini in a mosque?

    I am of the opinion, that the womans motives are nothing to do with the principals of equality and freedom, rather, it is all about trying to piss all other infidel cultures and goverments. I hope I am wrong.

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  • No, I think mainly you are right. I used to be ever so pc on this sort of things years ago, but enough is enough. From hijab to burqa, these are political/religious statements, not simply cultural. They are about us and them and worn to be deliberately divisive and provocative, not to mention being disrespectful of our traditions.

    I know we let the orthodox Jews get away with their hats and ringlets and matchboxes, but on the whole, I don’t see them from one year’s end to the next, and I don’t mind it on that scale. But I see female Islamic dress all the time, and it is time to say when in Rome …

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  • The irony is that the veil emphasizes the expressiveness and sexual attraction of a women’s eyes.

    But I don’t think irony is one of religious doctrine’s strong suits.

    I say religious doctrine singular, because they’re basically all the same, having been made-up or confabulated by humourless know-all’s, who, judging by the results, needed to get a life, but who in most cases have simply succeeded in ruining everyone else’s!

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  • The BBC gives more detail on this:-

    A breach of the ban can also mean a wearer having to undergo citizenship instruction.

    France has about five million Muslims – the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe – but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear full veils.

    PDF download ECHR ruling[116KB]

    The court ruled that the ban “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face”. The Strasbourg judges’ decision is final – there is no appeal against it.

    A court statement said the ruling also “took into account the state’s submission that the face played a significant role in social interaction”.

    “The Court was also able to understand the view that individuals might not wish to see, in places open to all, practices or attitudes which would fundamentally call into question the possibility of open interpersonal relationships, which, by virtue of an established consensus, formed an indispensable element of community life within the society in question.”

    Some face coverings, including motorbike helmets, are exempted from the French ban.

    The woman, identified only by the initials SAS, took her case to the European Court in 2011. She said she was under no family pressure to wear the niqab, but chose to do so as a matter of religious freedom, as a devout Muslim.

    France sets precedent

    France was the first European country in modern times to ban public wearing of the full-face veil. Belgium adopted a similar ban in 2011.

    In Spain, the city of Barcelona and some other towns have brought in similar bans, as have some towns in Italy.

    No such general ban applies in the UK, but institutions have discretion to impose their own dress codes.

    The French government argues that the ban has wide public support. The authorities see the full-face veil not only as an affront to French secular values but also as a potential security risk, as it conceals a person’s identity.

    In the past, the European Court has sided with French secularism – it also ruled in favour of the government’s ban on headscarves in schools.

    But in 2010, the judges did find against Turkey, ruling that religious garments were not in themselves a threat to public order.

    Exemptions from ban on public face covering

    Motorcycle helmets
    Face masks for health reasons
    Face covering for sporting or professional activities
    Sunglasses, hats etc which do not completely hide the face
    Masks used in “traditional activities”, such as carnivals or religious processions –
    Source: Radio France International

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  • it is also a stark reminder of membership of a group which advocate Misogyny, homophobia, cruelty to animals, no freedom of speech, and so on – in much the same way that the ku klux klan hijab was a stark reminder of membership of that group

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  • Meanwhile in Nigeria people are being treated with “Quoranic medical science” – which seems to require finding a “faith-thinking” doctor to carry out the diagnosis!

    A Nigerian man has been sent to a mental institute in Kano state after he declared that he did not believe in God, according to a humanist charity.
    Mubarak Bala was being held against his will at the hospital after his Muslim family took him there, it said.

    The hospital said it was treating Mr Bala, 29, for a “challenging psychological condition”, and would not keep him longer than necessary.

    Kano is a mainly Muslim state and adopted Islamic law in 2000.

    The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) says that when Mr Bala told relatives he did not believe in God, they asked a doctor if he was mentally ill.

    Despite being told that he was not unwell, Mr Bala’s family then went to a second doctor, who declared that his atheism was a side-effect of suffering a personality change, the group says.

    Mr Bala, a chemical engineering graduate, was forcibly committed to a psychiatric ward at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, but was able to contact activists using a smuggled phone, it says.

    Apparently some god-delusion-free-people need to be totally hidden away under theocratic law! – Talk about the lunatics taking over the asylum!!

    A Nigerian man detained in a hospital psychiatric ward because he did not believe in God has been freed, a humanist charity has said. –

    Mubarak Bala was released because of a doctors’ strike which has seen many patients discharged, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) said.

    He was held against his will for 18 days after his Muslim family committed him to the hospital in Kano, it said.

    Northern Nigeria is mainly Muslim and adopted Islamic law in 2000.

    The IHEU said Mr Bala, a chemical engineering graduate, was freed on Tuesday but news of his release was not made public until he was in a secure location.

    “There are still deep concerns for Mubarak’s safety in a part of the country where accusations of ‘apostasy’ can be deadly,” the charity said in a statement.

    After the 29-year-old was admitted to a psychiatric ward at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, he sought help from the hospital via email and social media, until his phone was confiscated, according to IHEU.

    Mr Bala, who was medicated during his stay, said he had no desire to take further legal action and thanked those who had campaigned for his release, the statement said.

    “To those who have made threats against me, I urge you to reason and learn to tolerate opinions other than yours,” he is quoted as saying by the charity.

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  • GPWC.

    “My Stealthy Freedom.” What nonsense! Why aren’t they facing the camera?

    A futile, fruitless exercise, motivated by, and an indictment of, absurd, repressive, antediluvian religious doctrines, many of which were created out of a fear of women and sex.

    Of course, Christianity used to be more or less the same, but it’s had some sense knocked into it by the constant hammer blows of reason and science.

    But this sort of nonsense does at least offer a window into the deep past, and affords a sane world a glimpse of the kind of madness that awaits us all if we are not very careful indeed.

    Imagine the black flag of Islam flying over Parliament!

    Although at present it’s just a silly boast, some already are doing so.

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  • 13
    alaskansee says:

    On security; Our local MP, (Alberta, Canada) managed to get a law through that bans face coverings at protests/rallies.

    I can live with this in law abiding Canada but have to wonder how a similar ban in many countries from Turkey and further east would work to stifle political dissent.

    Of course while this was happening a police officer was being tried for assaulting a protester and couldn’t be properly identified in his riot gear… Needless to say that’s not a problem the MP is worried about.

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  • For me, the veil issue is about protecting women. The woman in this case may wear it by choice (albeit “choice” informed by a lifetime of indoctrination) but how many women are compelled, whether by force or “community” pressure, to wear it? It is a device to control women and keep them apart from influences in society that might suggest to them that they’re more than the property of their husband or father. Better some women are banned from wearing it than others are forced to.

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  • 15
    debluhen says:

    Agreed. Besides, what about my right not to be afraid when I see bunch of burqas walk down the street? How do I know that these are only some shy Muslim women?

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  • Why should anyone be told they are not allowed to wear an item of clothing?

    Where does it stop? If I want to wear a hat, sunglasses, grow a beard and wear a scarf, is that classed as a threat because I am covering part of my face?

    Net – what if you or I, for some reason one day, decided to wear an item of clothing that some class as ‘religious’, does that then make the person wearing it religious and therefore a possible threat? Can I, a person with no religious views, therefore wear what i like?

    My view is that a person should be able to wear anything they feel comfortable wearing, providing it does not pose a threat, health, or safety risk, or be unsuitable for the environment they are in (schoolteacher in mankini comes to mind, strangely). And the reason for them choosing to wear it, religious or not, is none of anyone else’s business.

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  • Of course, Christianity used to be more or less the same, but it’s had some sense knocked into it by the constant hammer blows of reason and science.

    A point that needs to be highlighted from time to time.

    @ paulmcuk 12.57

    Better some women are banned from wearing it than others are forced to do so

    That seems like the best rationale for the ban in my eyes. Of course they could still subvert the ban by teaming their flowing robes with a pair of large sunglasses and a scarf if they were really intent on a full coverup.

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  • I’m wondering what people think about the recent issue in Quebec regarding a proposed “Charter of Secularity”, which would ban any prominent religious garb including hijabs, kippas, turbans and large crosses by those who work in the public sector. Note that the public sector here is enormous and includes teachers and medical workers. It was a very emotional debate, and full of hypocrisy. Many in government felt that the giant cross in the National Assembly should stay as a symbol of “our” heritage. The hijab ban was touted as a being pro-women’s rights, but what about the bans on kippas and turbans?I don’t think it is the state’s or anyone’s business why that person is wearing such a thing. Looked like the only ones who would lose their rights would be people who refused to remove their religious garb and would lose their jobs. However misguided they may be in terms of beliefs, observant religious folk should not be discriminated against and lose their jobs, if they are not harming anyone else.

    I do thnk it is troubling if someone covers her face. From what I can see of SAS, her face is not covered. the veil is transparent and we can see her face.

    By the way, the party lost the election, and for the moment, the issue’s been put on the back burner.

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  • Well… I am French and I think banning that stupid veil was a darn stupid thing to do. Security is an argument that could justify just about everything and does. The real reason is that 25% of French voters voted for the extreme right nationalist party for the European elections, so any politician who could forbid djellaba, Algerian accent or even dark skins would earn votes.

    If they really wanted to help women from Muslim families to get free from religion, they should start by publicly explaining that Muhammad never flew on a flying horse (because that is not possible) and give voice to Arab atheists. That, nobody does.

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  • Belgium also has a so-called “burqa ban” (actually an older law that bans “disguises that hide the face” except at mardis-gras) although it is unfortunately not often enforced after an altercation with a veiled ‘lady’, in which she head-butted police officers, lead to a full scale riot. The security implications are real, a man has escaped from prison in Denmark disguised in a burqa and a terror suspect has escaped arrest after leaving his mosque in a burqa in the UK for example. I do not think security is the main issue however but rather it is one of basic human dignity. We can all agree something like female genital mutilation is an outrage even if the victim has been indoctrinated to the point of defending the practice. The same goes for hiding a woman under a piece of cloth as if she were a piece of furniture: the damage this does to a society, let alone an individual, can be plainly seen in the islamist theocracies and has no place in our free society.

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  • “From what I can see of SAS, her face is not covered. the veil is transparent and we can see her face.”

    You can’t see anything of SAS. Presumably, as newspapers often do, they got a model to pose for the photo. As you say her face isn’t hidden so, obviously, somebody wearing a transparent veil wouldn’t be stopped by the police.

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  • Look again at the photo and you’ll see the woman in the transparent veil is actually wrapped in the French flag. This is definitely not Islamic clothing. Look at the background and you can see what looks like demonstrators in a tree-lined street. Not staged by a newspaper then, but a picture taken (in Paris?) of a demonstration against the law on the veil, I’d guess.

    Media studies is often derided but it could be a really useful subject, don’t you think?

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  • Craig.

    Choice, of course; if and when; that’s the question.

    Health, absolutely; except that lack of sunlight, especially in temperate northern regions can lead to rickets.

    When working in Hong Kong I favoured cut-away running shorts; then I was told that the Hong Kongnese find such garments immodest and unacceptable; so I stopped wearing them.

    “When in Rome, do as Rome does.” Simple.

    As for practicalities, ever seen a woman trying to drink coffee from underneath a burka? Ridiculous. Or hilarious; not quite sure which.

    Very entertaining though; especially when she’s trying to hold on to the hand rail in a bus at the same time.

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  • Ornicar,

    I despise the extreme right in your country and in mine. But in the interest of the Algerians in France, isn’t it up to you all to make change from within first? France offers you all freedom to make explanations yourself as a community! Why do you demand that the French do it for you? How exactly are the French holding you down as an atheist?

    It’s the Muslims who are holding you down with fear of death and ostracism not the French government. If you are Algerian yourself then you know that your own house is out of order. Banning the burka is a strategy to help Muslim women come out of the shadows and move slowly onto a level playing field. When they can move freely in society they will see what they have been missing and gain courage to demand basic human rights in a secular state.

    The French have made mistakes in their dealings with the immigrant community. Anyone can see that clearly. Now we are left with bitter resentment on both sides which serves no one well and will only become worse if action is not taken.

    The Muslim immigrant community needs to work with the government to promote a strong cultural immersion program. The mosques are subversive and encourage extremism. They need to be cut off at the knees. Create jobs and education programs for the young people. Let a strong feminist movement grow in those communities. A women’s clinic in every neighborhood with free birth control and reproductive rights services. Safe houses for battered women and their children. Break up the immigrant ghettos with housing incentives. and yes, expand the ban on religious symbols in public, not just for Muslims, for everyone!

    I support the burka ban and if it was in my power to do so, I’d ban the hejab too. I realize that this will probably never happen but if you are Algerian then you know as well as I do that the hejab is NOT a religious symbol. It is a symbol of religio-political unity which is worn by women who accept sexist oppression and are proud of it, while forcing their sister Muslimas to wear it too whether they like it or not.

    Look, I know that with the Arab Spring and everything that is happening now in Iraq and Israel-Palestine that there is an intoxicating power in the air. Their goal is in sight and momentum is increasing exponentially. It’s just my personal opinion here, but when the Middle East sorts itself out, however long that will take, I am hoping that the immigrants in Europe will have sufficient means to reestablish a decent secular movement in that region based on the European model. If that doesn’t happen then welcome to the dark ages.

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  • 27
    NearlyNakedApe says:


    I think this pretty much sums it up in a few sentences. Muslim women like “SAS”, who “kiss Imam ass” by pretending the Islamic veil is an exercise in freedom of expression, while conveniently hiding behind anonymity, do little to inspire respect. At least not in my book.

    Especially when one considers that there are brave Muslim and ex-Muslim women out there like Ayaan Irsi Ali, who do NOT hide behind anonymity and risk far more than a paltry fine for speaking the truth about the veil’s actual purpose and what life is REALLY like for Muslim women around the world.

    Muslim and non-Muslim women alike should be far more concerned about a woman’s right to NOT wear the veil than the other way around. But as we often see nowadays, the tail wags the dog yet again in the wonderful land of the homo-sapiens.

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  • 28
    Twizzle says:

    I live in France and have followed somewhat closely the debates. It is very clear that security is only a pretext. It played a very marginal part in the debates, which were heavily centered on the violation the burqa is supposed to represent of French republican ideology. In other words, in France, a certain set of ideas such as human rights, the equality of the sexes and so on are viewed as obligatory for all citizens. Islam is seen as potentially in contradiction with these views, and the ban of the burqa is in this context.

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  • 30
    Twizzle says:

    I pass a lot of people on the streets who might be something different than what they appear to be. Sometimes I’m a bit afraid; rarely I cross the street.

    I’m a man; I gather that for many women, the situation arises quite often.

    No one sees that as a reason for banning types of people from going around. Perhaps if we set a curfew for men at 9PM every day, women would feel more free to go about?

    So I really don’t see that your being a bit afraid sometimes when you see burqas, because perhaps they are actually terrorists or Martians in disguise, can justify a ban on them.

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  • Twizzle Jul 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    And why should Muslims not be allowed to make political/religious statements in public?

    See my earlier link :- Under the exemptions they can

    Exemptions from ban on public face covering – Masks used in “traditional activities”, such as carnivals or religious processions –

    . . . . .. for the occasional parade or event!

    Just not “in your face” in public places, all day every day!

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