A leading court in France has ordered that a beach resort on the country’s Mediterranean coast cannot bar women from wearing burkinis, a body-concealing item of clothing worn by some Muslim women.
The Council of State’s ruling came in response to a ban on the burkini in the French town of Villeneuve-Loubet, where women are understood to have been made to remove the garments. The court ruling made reference to the string of extremist terror attacks that have rocked France recently, but said Villeneuve-Loubet’s mayor had acted beyond his authority in issuing the ban, which it described as a ‘manifestly illegal infringement on basic freedoms’.
But the ramifications of the court’s decision are more far-reaching, and are expected to effectively prevent authorities across France from issuing similar decrees against the burkini. Lawyers who sought the ruling are reported to have said they will ask local mayors who have issued burkini bans to withdraw them, and will follow-up with further court action if necessary.
France is a secular society that has strict rules on the display of religious attire in the public sphere, including under a 2004 law that outlaws the display of headscarves and other religious clothing in schools. The ban on the burkini in Villeneuve-Loubet, which is understood to have been followed by similar orders in other parts of the country, has sparked fierce debate across France.
Human rights groups had decried the impact of the burkini prohibitions on individual freedoms, and Amnesty International hailing the overturning of the ‘discriminatory’ bans that it said have led to ‘the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls’.
But French prime minister Manual Valls arguing that the burkini represents the advance of ‘political Islam in the public space’. And former president and 2017 presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has called for the bans not only to remain in place but to extend across France.