Belgium suspends Flemish school ban on Islamic veils

19th March 2010, Comments 0 comments

Belgium ordered the suspension of a school ban on Islamic veils in place in the northern region of Flanders, to give time for a legal ruling on the controversial issue.

BRUSSELS - The Flemish school board introduced the ban last September in the region's Dutch-language public schools, along with a prohibition on the wearing of all religious symbols for pupils and teachers.

Responding to a complaint by a Muslim student at a school in the northern town of Antwerp, Belgium's state council -- the highest authority on administrative matters -- on Wednesday ordered "the suspension of the execution of this decision," according to a statement.

Schools in Flanders that are financed by other Belgian communities -- mostly Catholic schools run by municipalities -- are not bound by the order.

The veil in schools debate is also underway in Belgium's other main communities, French-speaking Wallonia and the Brussels capital region.

Last week a Muslim mathematics teacher in a municipal school in the French-speaking industrial city of Charleroi won a legal battle to wear a veil in class, when an appeals court overturned a lower court decision.

However most francophones parties have spoken in favour of banning the veil in schools.

Belgium's constitutional court must now consider whether the original Flemish ban on veils conforms with the principles of freedom, equal rights and the right to education.

Meanwhile the Belgian federal government will this month begin debating a proposal to ban women from wearing the full-face hiqab and burqa in public.

Legal experts suggest this too is a very tricky legal point, given that Belgian and EU law guarantees the freedoms of opinion and expression.

Controversy has raged in a number of European countries in recent years over the wearing Muslim veils and other religious garments in state or public institutions.


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