Berlin: The German Senate has approved a controversial law banning public employees from wearing ideological or religious symbols on the job. This comes weeks after voters in Switzerland supported a ban on burqa and niqab.
The new legislation on dress and appearance allows state authorities to prohibit or restrict the wearing of tattoos, symbols, jewelry, or visible clothing related to religion, regardless of belief, while public officials are at work or in service.
But it was unclear whether the authorities could use this new legislation to impose a general ban on Muslim women’s headscarves.
On March 30, the French Senate also voted to ban the hijab (the headscarf that Muslim women wear) in public places for anyone under 18 years old. Earlier, Sri Lanka’s cabinet also approved a proposal to ban all types of face veils in public places due to national security concerns.
German Muslim association strongly criticized the move and said that the legislation was introduced in a hurry by the government without prior consultation with the country’s religious communities.
The German Islamic coordination council said in a statement that the “legislative change gives the state authorities a tool by which to prevent civil servants from wearing the headscarves or capes,” adding that this would undermine freedom of belief.
“In practice, it will particularly affect Muslim women who wear a headscarf – regardless of their eligibility or qualifications,” the council told the National.
Burhan Kesici, chairman of the Berlin-based Islam council, said that the language of the bill is very vague, which could lead to arbitrary implementation by the authorities, which violates the basic rights of Muslim women working in the public sector.
Katarina Niewiedzial, Berlin’s senate commissioner for integration and immigration, also criticized the legislation, arguing that it unfairly targets Muslim women.
“This law provides the basis for a far-reaching ban on the hijab and sends the wrong signal,” she said in a statement.
Niewiedzial emphasized that under the new measures, Muslim women would not be able to freely practice their profession or even have the opportunity to get a job in the public sector.
The German interior ministry claimed that the legislation would not introduce a general ban for public employees from wearing religious symbols or clothing at work, but would impose restrictions in exceptional cases.
“The law regulating the appearance of civil servants primarily implements the constitutional obligation to maintain the state’s ideological and religious neutrality,” interior ministry spokeswoman Alina Vick said at a press conference in Berlin on May 7.
This is not the first time the topic of Muslim face coverings has been hotly debated in Germany.
Last July, the western German state of Baden-Wurttemberg banned full-face coverings, often known as burqa or niqab, in schools, saying that the full-face Islamic covering does not belong in a free society.
In 2015, Germany’s constitutional court overturned a burqa ban on teachers wearing them, ruling that it was against religious freedom.
However, eight of Germany’s states maintain restrictions on wearing the hijab by female teachers.