German State Upholds Headscarf Ban for Teachers

Tuesday Aug 14, 2007

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court upheld a ban on Tuesday on female teachers wearing headscarves in schools in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where almost a third of the country's 3.5 million Muslims live.

Seven of Germany's 16 states have banned teachers from wearing Islamic headscarves, a policy Muslim groups say discriminates against them.

A court in the northwestern city of Duesseldorf ruled that a 52-year-old teacher, who was effectively trying to get the ban lifted, was not allowed to wear her headscarf in school.

Wearing the garment was a religious statement and therefore against state rules, the court said in a statement.

Maryam Brigitte Weiss, a state school teacher since 1980, converted to Islam at the start of the 1990s and decided to start wearing a headscarf in 2006. To show a willingness for compromise, she wears her scarf in a so-called "Grace Kelly" style, tied in a loose knot at the base of the neck.

She argued it was not the traditional Islamic style and said the state's laws contravened her right to religious freedom. She plans to launch an appeal.

"This is a witch hunt," Weiss, a member of the board of the Central Council of Muslims, told Reuters by telephone.

"This ruling stigmatizes educated Muslim women and stops them from pursuing a career and therefore also excludes them from society," she said.

The decision follows a similar ruling by a court in the southern, mainly Catholic state of Bavaria which upheld its ban in January.

Some of Germany's Muslims, who are mostly Turks, complain they are subject to discrimination in education and in finding jobs, which alienates them from mainstream society.

The wearing of headscarves and veils has become a hot political issue in several European states.

France triggered a row by banning Muslim headscarves in state schools and some Islamic groups in Britain have accused the government of creating a climate of Islamophobia after a top politician said veils made community relations more difficult.

On Wednesday, a court in the western German state of Hesse will hold a hearing on a ban on civil servants wearing headscarves at work, but a decision will take several months.

To leave the list, send your request by email to: wunrn_listserve-request@lists.wunrn.com. Thank you.