Headscarves face ban in Germany

14th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

Germany's constitution might guarantee religious freedom, but political tensions over Muslim women wearing headscarves have been growing following the moves by several states to ban what are called religious symbols from public schools. Ernest Gill reports.

German states are gearing up to ban headscarves in public schools

A national debate over whether Muslim girls and women should be allowed to wear headscarves in public schools is heating up with regional lawmakers moving to bar such practices in one state.

The legislation is being introduced in Baden-Wuerttemberg and is expected to be followed by similar legislation in neighbouring Bavaria and other states.

Critics immediately announced plans for protests, and pro-Islamic groups vowed to draw thousands onto the streets of Berlin for a massive protest march.

Coinciding with similar debates in France and Belgium, the new legislation has already drawn fire from Germany's Central Council of Muslims, with council head Nadeem Elyas affirming, "Both headscarves and crucifixes should be permitted in German public classrooms."

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa has learned that the new legislation would prohibit the wearing of headscarves in public facilities such as schools in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, a largely Roman Catholic state in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany.

However, Catholic nuns would be permitted to wear habits, crucifixes and other garb associated with Christianity, dpa learned.

The new legislation was prompted by a controversial German Supreme Court ruling last September which stated that Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities had no right to bar an Afghan-born woman from a teaching job because she had insisted on wearing a headscarf in the classroom.

Afghan-born Fereshta Ludin, 31, who has been a naturalized German citizen since 1995, was refused a job as a public-school teacher in 1998 in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg because she insisted on wearing her scarf in the classroom.

*quote1*In a split, 5-3 decision, Federal Constitutional Court judges said existing state regulations gave no authority to refuse her the post, and officials had infringed on her freedom of religion.

But they said the 16 state parliaments were entitled to ban religious symbols such as headscarves in secular classrooms. The three minority judges favoured the southwestern state, saying the original refusal to hire her had been constitutional.

Thus, lawmakers in Baden-Wuerttemberg moved Tuesday to close the legal loophole.

The new legislation is bound to rekindle the controversial, coming only days after German President Johannes Rau became embroiled in the debate.

Rau has drawn criticism from some conservative quarters and religious leaders by saying that if headscarves were forbidden in German schools then so should other outward religious symbols.

Rau insists he is not attempting to come out either for or against the wearing of headscarves by Muslim teachers. Instead, he says that he favours treating all religions equally.

Rau, a Social Democrat, says banning teachers or students wearing headscarves in German schools while tolerating the symbols of other religions could signal to Muslims that they were "second-class citizens".

He says, "If the headscarf is to be seen as a declaration of faith, as a missionary garment, then the same must apply to the monk's robe or the crucifix."

Besides Baden-Wuerttemberg, several states are considering making it illegal for a teacher to wear a headscarf, which some see as a sign of Islamic fundamentalism.

Bavaria's Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber said he resented Rau's attempt to "cast doubt on our national identity, distinguished by the Christian religion".

The conservative leader of the strongly Catholic state described the Muslim headscarf as "a political symbol incompatible with enlightened democracy".

He defended the crucifix in Bavaria's schools as a "sign of our history", saying that unlike the Moslem headscarf it was a symbol of "development and tolerance".

Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also joined the debate, using a New Year's Eve sermon in Regensburg Cathedral to describe Rau's remarks as "an odd lecture".

The German prelate, who heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said: "I would not forbid any Moslem wearing a headscarf, but still less do we accept a ban on the crucifix as public symbol of a culture of reconciliation."

He said nobody was insulted or had suffered violence as a result of the crucifix which he maintained had a unique significance around the world, not only for Christians.

January 2004


Subject: German news

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