German state outlaws Muslim headscarves

A southern German state has today become the first in the country to ban Muslim teachers from wearing Muslim headscarves at school.

The conservative state legislature in Baden-Wuerttemberg voted almost unanimously for the new law, which will come into effect later this month.

Schoolgirls in France were banned from wearing the hijab in February. The ban is due to take effect at the beginning of the next school year in September.

Annette Schavan, the Culture Minister for Baden-Wuerttemberg, said that headscarves were to be banned because they could be interpreted as a symbol of "Islamist political views" which had no place in the classroom.

Germany's highest tribunal, the constitutional court, had ruled in September that Baden-Wuerttemberg was wrong to forbid a Muslim teacher, Fereshta Ludin, from wearing a headscarf in the classroom.

But the court said in its ruling that Germany's 16 regional states could legislate to ban religious apparel if it was deemed to unduly influence children.

As a result, six states have now introduced draft laws banning headscarves or other religious symbols in public institutions.

The latest draft law was published in Berlin earlier this week, when its left-wing government agreed on a sweeping ban on a range of religious symbols.

The Berlin ban would apply to police officers, judges, bailiffs and public school teachers, and would cover Muslim headscarves, large Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps.

Muslim groups have fiercely criticised the bans as compromising their freedom of religious expression.

The ban on the hijab in French schools was aimed at keeping religion out of the classroom in a state system that jealously guards its secular foundation.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, is also aiming to introduce legislation to restrict Muslim dress and practices in hospitals and other public service buildings.

The French ban did not go uncriticised, however, particularly when it was realised that the original legislation failed to take account of the Sikh religion, which advocates the wearing of turbans.

Critics have argued that the ban would only serve to further alienate the French Muslim community and give a platform to radical Muslim groups, the very groups that the French Government was seeking to counter with the legislation.