September 1, 2012
The French law banning the full-face veil from public spaces has been controversial from the start, with loud debates about the meaning of liberty, individual rights, the freedoms of religion and expression, and the nature of laïcité, or secularism, in the French republic.
While pushed by the center-right and former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the ban was not opposed by the Socialist Party, which largely abstained in parliamentary votes. And the current French president, François Hollande, has said he has no intention of discarding the law, which has been generally popular with the French.
To avoid charges of discrimination, the law was written without any reference to Islam or to women and was presented as a security measure, making it an offense to wear clothing “intended to hide the face’’ in any public place, including shops or the street. The police do not have the authority to remove full veils, only to fine or require citizenship lessons for those who violate the new law. A clause says that anyone who forces a woman to cover her face can be imprisoned for up to a year and fined up to 30,000 euros, or $37,000.