French Burka Ban to Go Before Parliament

Mirroring moves in Belgium and Spain, lawmakers in France begin debate on 13 July 2010 on a bill aimed at banning the full-face Islamic veil in the country with Europe’s biggest Muslim minority.

The legislation would make it illegal to wear the face-covering veil anywhere in public and impose fines of 150 euros (US$190) to women caught in attire that President Nicolas Sarkozy has described as degrading to women. Legal experts warn the broad scope of the law banning the veil in all public places as opposed to state institutions could be struck down by the constitutional court.

Muslim leaders fear it will stoke tensions by stigmatising France’s estimated five to six million Muslims, many of whom live in the volatile suburbs. Fewer than 2,000 women wear the full-face veil in France, according to the interior ministry.

The bill, set to go to the Senate in September for a final vote, would make it illegal for reasons of security for anyone to cover their face in public. To avoid stoking tensions, the law would however give police some leeway to waive penalties and instead order offenders to enroll in a “citizenship course” to better understand French secularism. Husbands who force their wives or daughters to wear the full veil face a hefty fine of up to 30,000 euros and a one-year jail term, according to the draft legislation. No penalties will be applied in the first six months after its adoption.