Uncovering French and Belgian Face Covering Bans

in Journal of Law, Religion and State
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This paper analyses the French and Belgian bans on face covering by taking a close look at the aims they are intended to serve in the eyes of the legislators in the two countries. These stated aims are the basis for a critical assessment of the bans from a human rights perspective. The authors conclude that the reasons proffered for the prohibition can legitimize at most a limited set of contextual bans, not the broad nationwide bans that are in place.

Uncovering French and Belgian Face Covering Bans

in Journal of Law, Religion and State




R. Owen“Italian police fine woman for wearing burqa in public”The Times5 May 2010.


W. Fautrésupra note 16.


C. Gabizon“Sarkozy : ‘la burqa n’est pas la bienvenue’”Le Figaro26 June 2009 (our translation).


Constitutional Court 6 December 2012no. 145/2012. See extensively on the ruling: L. Lauvrysen & E. Brems “Redding boerkaverbod leidt tot rare kronkels” Recht Religie en Samenleving 2013 (forthcoming); J. Vrielink “Het bedekte gelaat van de Belgische Grondwet. Het Belgisch Grondwettelijk Hof en het ‘boerkaverbod’” Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Mensenrechten 2013 vol. 38 no. 2 251-267. For brief summaries see J. Flo & J. Vrielink “The Constitutionality of the Belgian Burqa Ban” openDemocracy.net 14 January 2013; S. Ouald Chaib “Belgian Constitutional Court Says Ban on Face Coverings Does Not Violate Human Rights” Strasbourgobservers.com 14 December 2012.


Prior to this in 2003the issue of the face veil had attracted some media attention when a school banned students from wearing it (A. Moors “The Dutch and the Face-veil: The Politics of Discomfort” Social Anthropology/Antropologie Sociale 2009 no. 4 396).


R. Minder“Spain’s Senate Votes to Ban Burqa”New York Times24 June 2010.


Law no. 651 of 15 June 2010. See also W. Fautré supra note 16.


Apa/red“Minister Hahn möchte die Burka verbieten: Für Verbannung aus dem öffentlichen Raum”News.at 18 April 2008.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 67-69 and 81-84. At the same time of course in most of the countries in which the issue has led to debate (or even legislation) face veils are extremely rare as well.


French Parliament“Etude d’impact (projet de loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public”7.


Conseil d’Etatsupra note 28 30-35.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 99-100.


French Parliament“Etude d’impact (projet de loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public”7.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 109.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 113.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 117-118. See critically on this interpretation of Lévinas: J. Vrielink supra note 38 at 260.


French Council of Statesupra note 28 26.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 93-94.


EComHR 22 October 1998Kara v. the United Kingdom.


 See e.g. C. EvansFreedom of Religion Under the European Convention on Human RightsOxfordOxford University Press2001103 e.v.


EComHR 12 October 1978Arrowsmith v. the United Kingdom no. 7050/75. See D.J. Harris M. O’Boyle E.P. Bates and C.M. Buckley Law of the European Convention on Human Rights 2009 433-434 and P. Van Dijk F. Van Hoof A. Van Rijn and L. Zwaak (eds.) Theory and practice of the European Convention on Human Rights 2006 761 e.v.


 See e.g. ECtHR 10 November 2005Leyla Sahin v. Turkey §78; and ECtHR 7 December 2010 Jakóbski v. Poland §44-45.


M. EvansManual on the Wearing of Religious Symbols in Public AreasStrasbourgCouncil of Europe Publishing200995.


ECtHR 8 July 2008Vajnai v. Hungary §57. See also on this case Section 4.3 below.


ECtHR 23 February 2010Ahmet Arslan et al. v. Turkey §50.


A. Moorssupra note 3 55.


 See e.g. J. FeinbergHarm to Self (The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law; vol. 3)OxfordOxford University Press1986.


ECtHR 17 February 2005K.A. and A.D. v. Belgium §83. See also ECtHR 29 April 2002 Pretty v. the United Kingdom §66.


 See also A. Moorssupra note 40 403.


ECtHR 8 July 2008Vajnai v. Hungary §52 (arguing that “this star also still symbolises the international workers’ movement struggling for a fairer society as well [as] certain lawful political parties active in different Member States”). Mutatis mutandis the same is true even more for face veils. In this sense see e.g. S. Hussein “Looking In or Looking Out? Stories On the Multiple Meanings of Veiling” T. Dreher and C. Ho (eds.) Beyond the Hijab Debates: New Conversations on Gender Race and Religion Newscastle upon Tyne Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2009 81-89; M. Williamson and G. Khiabany “UK: the Veil and the Politics of Racism” Race & Class 2010 in particular 89-91 (on the “multiple meanings of veiling”) See extensively on the issue of banning face veils for “symbolic” reasons J. Vrielink “Symptomatic Symbolism. Banning the burqa ‘as a symbol’” in E. Brems (ed.) The Face Veil in Europe Inside and Out Cambridge Cambridge University Press (forthcoming).


ECtHR 8 July 2008Vajnai v. Hungary §55.


ETC 6 September 2000opinion 2000-63 §4.9. But see also: ETC 20 March 2003 opinion 2003-40.


A. Gérinsupra note 54 29.


T. Hammarberg“‘Rulings anywhere that women must wear the burqa should be condemned - but banning such dresses here would be wrong’, says Commissioner Hammarberg”Viewpoint8 March 2010 (www.coe.int).


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