Germany's Bavaria Bans Teachers From Wearing Religious Symbols

Lawmakers in the southern German state of Bavaria passed a change in the law that will ban teachers in state schools from wearing religious symbols such as Islamic headscarves if they aren't ``compatible with western values.''

The amendment applies to ``symbols and clothing that express religious or ideological beliefs and at the same time can also be understood as an expression of an attitude incompatible with basic constitutional values and educational aims,'' according to an explanatory note on the law posted by the state government on the Bavarian parliament Web site. ``What matters is not the teacher's intention in wearing the item, but the possible interpretation.''

Headscarves will not be allowed under the law as some of those who support wearing them regard them as an expression of a lower status for women or of fundamentalism, in contradiction of the constitutional right of equality, the government said.

Bavaria is the third of Germany's 16 states, after Baden- Wuerttemberg and Lower Saxony, to introduce legislation banning Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in state schools after the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in September 2003 that they can wear such items as state laws don't forbid it.

The debate in Germany about headscarves as religious symbols began when Baden-Wuerttemberg banned Fereshta Ludin, a German of Afghan origin, from working as a teacher in a state school because she wore a scarf.

The state said it violated a requirement that teachers have a neutral attitude toward religion. Ludin fought the decision, arguing that the German constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.

No Ban for Nuns

Christian and Jewish symbols and clothing, such as nun's habits, will be excluded from the Bavarian ban, which takes effect Jan. 1. Teachers can wear such items in schools as they reflect the cultural and educational values of the state, the law says.

Legislators in two other states, Hesse and Saarland, have also put forward draft legislation to ban headscarves in their classrooms.

Their proposals and the state laws already in place may be unconstitutional as they contravene the principle of religious equality, lawyers have said.

The state government in Berlin plans to go a step further and has proposed an across-the-board ban on religious symbols for all civil servants and not just for teachers.