[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] released a new report [text, PDF; report materials] on Thursday stating that Germany's bans on religious clothing and symbols, particularly those focused on the headscarves [JURIST news archive] worn by Muslim women, are discriminatory and violate international human rights standards. The report details the impact that the ban has on autonomy and the rights to privacy, self-expression, and religion. HRW argues that the bans violate international obligations and addresses the direct effects they have on the lives of Muslim women who wear headscarves:
After examining the laws and policies in the eight German states that restrict the wearing of religious symbols, and how they are applied in practice, Human Rights Watch has found that they contravene Germany's international obligations to guarantee individuals the right to freedom of religion and equality before the law. These laws (either explicitly or in their application) discriminate against Muslim women, excluding them from teaching and other public sector employment on the basis of their faith.The recommendations of the report include a call for the United Nations special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief [official website] to visit the country in order to assess the compatibility of the bans with international human rights laws and to issue an opinion for resolving conflicts.
These regulations are not abstract concerns. The restrictions have a profound effect on women's lives, as was described by women affected who spoke to Human Rights Watch. In those states with bans in effect, women wearing the headscarf are not permitted to work as teachers. Immediately after the new laws came into effect, teachers were asked to remove the headscarf and were reprimanded if they refused to do so, and in some cases even dismissed. Teachers, some with many years of employment, have been threatened with disciplinary action if they continue to wear the headscarf, and have been subject to disciplinary action in North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg.
Headscarves have been the topic of fierce debate in Germany since teacher Fereshta Ludin [Pluralism Project backgrounder] filed suit after being denied a job in Stuttgart in 1998. Ludin argued that the German constitution guaranteed her right to wear the headscarf. The federal Constitutional Court [official website] ruled in September 2003 that under then-current laws, she was correct, but it also noted that individual states could pass laws banning the headwear. Currently headscarves are prohibited in nine of the 16 German states, including in Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria [JURIST reports]. Baden-Wuerttemberg initially banned headscarves from schools in 2004 [JURIST report], becoming the first state in Germany to do so.