Face veil ban upheld in France

The European Court of Human Rights today upheld the French law banning face-covering Muslim veils from the streets. It was part of a recent case brought by a woman who claimed that her freedom of religion was violated.

The ruling by the court was the first of its kind since France passed the law in 2010 that forbids anyone to hide his or her face in a variety of public places. The law went into effect in 2011.

The Grand Chamber rejected the arguments of the French woman in her mid-20s who was a practicing Muslim. She said that she doesn’t hide her face at all times, but when she does it is to be at peace with her faith, her culture, and her personal convictions. She stressed in her argument that no one, including her husband, forced her to conceal her face. That was of concern to French authorities.

The court ruled that the law doesn’t breach the European Convention on Human Rights and promotes a diverse society.

Critics of the ban contend the law targets Muslims and stigmatizes Islam as a religion and culture. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe at 5 million, making the issue particularly sensitive to many people. Those who break the law are subjected to a fine.

The law was initially seen as a security measure, with veiled women considered fundamentalists and potential candidates for extremist views. Another concern was the respect for the French model of integration in which people of different origins are expected to assimilate into the French way of life.

The court concluded that the ban is a “choice of society,” and gave France a wide margin of appreciation. Only a few countries ban face veils at all.