Berlin Proposes Ban on Religious Symbols for Civil Servants

Berlin's city government put forward a bill banning police, teachers and other civil servants from wearing or displaying religious symbols such as headscarves in public, the city-state's Interior Ministry said.

The legislation balances ``the constitutional rights to freedom of religion and belief that every civil servant enjoys'' with the state's constitutional obligation to neutrality in these areas, the ministry said in a statement on its Web site.

Should the state parliament approves the bill, Berlin would be the first of Germany's 16 states to introduce an across-the- board ban on religious symbols for all civil servants. In April, two other states, Lower Saxony and Baden-Wuerttemberg, passed laws forbidding Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in publicly run schools.

Legislators in other states, including Hesse, Bavaria and Saarland, have also put forward proposals to ban headscarves in their classrooms. The measures were taken after Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled last September that Muslim teachers may wear a headscarf in state schools as long as state laws don't forbid it.

Fereshta Ludin, a German of Afghan origin, took the case to the court after Baden-Wuerttemberg banned her from working as a teacher in a state school because she wore a headscarf. The state argued that she had violated teachers' obligation to neutrality on religion. Ludin argued that the German constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.

The Berlin state government also proposed changes to its daycare law, the ministry said. Under the proposal, teachers in public kindergartens and day nurseries ``shall pay attention to neutrality of religion and belief.'' While the proposal doesn't seek to ban religious symbols outright, it would force teachers to comply with requests by parents for them to abstain from wearing them.