The European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s face veil ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in public settings. The ban, which went into effect three years ago, has caused widespread backlash from Muslim communities in France, which claim the ban imposes on their religious freedom and identity. Labeled as a means to help protect public safety and bridge social gaps, the imposition of the ban was strictly “due to the concealment of the face” and had no correlation with religious animosity, according to the Court.
A woman by the alias of S.A.S. testified against France’s face veil ban in court. A university-educated woman and French citizen, S.A.S. told the courts that she voluntarily wore the veils (the niqab, which leaves the eyes exposed, and the burqa, which covers the body from head-to-toe) and felt no pressure from her husband to wear the dress in public. S.A.S. wished to wear the veils during certain circumstances and felt the ban imposed on her religious obligation to do so.
At the time it was enacted, the Interior Ministry in Paris estimated only around 2,000 women in France still wore the niqab. This is a considerably low number for France’s Muslim community, which — at up to six million — is Europe’s largest. Only about hundreds of women have been fined for wearing the veil, which is usually at around 150 euros, or $215 US dollars.
The European Court, while aware the ban did affect certain members of the Muslim community specifically, upheld it on account of the veil’s restriction from those wearing it to show their face, which is considered a social right and safety concern. While the court denied the ban’s justification on improving public safety or women’s rights, they did agree that it improved social cohesion.
“Some people now feel entitled to attack women wearing the veil even though the infringement is no more severe than, say, a parking ticket,” Ray said.
Nevertheless, the French government has remained satisfied with the ruling, claiming it a victory for “gender equality.”