French Court affirms religious freedom in hijab case

Le Monde

20.03.2013

France’s Court of Cassation overruled the dismissal of a Muslim woman from her workplace for wearing the niqab. Fatima Afif, a former employee of private day nursery in Chanteloup-les Vignes (Île-de-France), was refused from recommencing to work after a five-year long maternity leave when she announced her intention to continue to wear the niqab in 2008. The female director of the nursery, Natalia Baleato, justified her refusal to reemploy Mrs. Afif with the nursery’s work regulation guidelines, which state the obligation to “neutrality in respect to philosophy, politics and confession”.

The French government has since banned women from wearing the niqab in public with the help of controversial law.

The claimant lost her case of unfair dismissal from workplace on discriminatory grounds in front of the Court of Appeal of Versailles in 2011 but continued to appeal against the court’s decision. Last week’s annulations of  2011’s verdict by the French Court of Cassation in Paris is based upon the judge’s declaration that the Mrs. Afif was employed by a private nursery and not a public state funded institution. In other words, the principles of the recent anti-niqab legislation did not apply to the case whilst her civil right to express her religious faith prevailed.

The French government criticised the court’s ruling on the grounds that “it calls into question the princinple of secular education” in France.