French told full burqa ban could fail court challenge

News Agencies

France’s top administrative body has advised the government against a complete ban on the full Islamic veil, instead suggesting outlawing the burqa in some places for security reasons. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government is planning to present a bill to parliament in the coming weeks to restrict Muslim women from wearing full-face veils such as the niqab or burqa. Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the State Council in
January 2010 for a legal opinion before drafting the bill that he said would ban the burqa in as many places as possible.

But in its report, the council warned that a blanket ban would likely not stand up to a court challenge and that there were no legal grounds for it. The council said however that the government could invoke security and public order to require that faces be uncovered in public venues such as courts, schools, hospitals and during university exams, for example.

The council however did not spell out the specific places where the ban could be enforced and suggested that local prefects who represent the state in French departments could issue directives. Muslim women who insist on covering themselves in violation of the law should be spared from paying a fine and instead be referred for counseling to a women’s rights association, the council said.