French court upholds ban on turbans in schools

Paris, Franc - A French high court has ruled that a ban against wearing turbans in schools was legal as there was a greater interest to be served in preserving secularity than a religious belief.

Exactly three years after Bikramjit Singh, Jasvir Singh and Ranjit Singh were expelled from the Louise-Michel High School of Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis), the Conseil d'Etat ruled on December 5 that the 'keski' -- the under-turban they wore to school -- was not a discreet sign but an ostensible manifestation of religion which is prohibited by the French law of March 15, 2004.

The court concluded in the interest of secularism in public schools, the permanent expulsion of a student, who does not conform to the legal ban on wearing of ostensible religious signs, "does not lead to an excessive infringement on freedom of thought, conscience and religion".

The court said since the ban applied to all religious signs, it was not discriminatory against Sikhs.

Mejindarpal Kaur, director of International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy said on Friday lawyers of the boys, who had been instructed by United Sikhs and French Turban Action Committee, had argued before the court that the expulsion had

infringed articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which provided for the freedom to manifest one's religion and the right not to be discriminated respectively.

Even though the ban on religious signs in schools affected all communities, it has been challenged only by six expelled Sikh schoolboys till date.

"We will file appeals on behalf of all the six boys in the European Human Rights Court and the UNHRC by January," said Kaur, who has led the 'right to turban' campaign since 2004.