Swedish education agency rejects veil ban

Stockholm, Sweden - The Swedish National Agency for Education has reaffirmed its support for the right of pupils to wear religious headgear in school. In the spring of last year the agency intervened when a school in the northern town of UmeƄ had banned one of its pupils from wearing a Muslim headscarf.

The girl in question left Minerva School as a result of the ban. The school however stuck to its decision and requested the education agency to reconsider its original stance.

But the agency's second investigation produced the same conclusion: a full headgear ban is not permissible on the grounds that it effectively excludes the participation of pupils who wear scarves for religious reasons.

Minerva School, which is a non-religious private school, contended that its ban extends to all headgear worn in the classroom, not just headscarves. It also pointed out that, since many women who practice Islam do not wear veils, it is incorrect to maintain that a ban on veils prevents pupils from practicing their religion.

But the education agency has reiterated its original view that a ban on veils constitutes religious discrimination, which is not permitted under Swedish law.

"We took another look at our first decision and found that there was nothing wrong there. It complied with both Swedish and international law," Frida Ericmats from the National Agency for Education told The Local.

The agency's analysis was supported by the discrimination ombudsman, who agreed that the school's ruling constituted a form of indirect discrimination.

"The school's rules mean that it is not possible for all pupils to go there. But freedom of religion is a constitutional right," said Ericmats.

She also points out that headscarves should not be equated with burqas. While schools may prohibit burqas on the grounds that they impede teacher-pupil communication, no such argument can be made concerning headscarves.

The wearing of hats and caps is also a separate issue as the religious element is lacking. Schools may in fact come to an agreement with parents and pupils to ban the wearing of these items in the classroom.

But the right to wear unobtrusive religious headgear is non-negotiable.