Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

European Court of Human Rights upholds French ban on Muslim face veils

This May 18, 2010 file photo shows a woman, who gave her name as Najat, holding her passport during a press conference in Montreuil, east of Paris.

Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld France's law banning face-covering Muslim veils from the streets, in a case brought by a woman who claimed her freedom of religion was violated.

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court was the first of its kind since France passed a law in 2010 that forbids anyone to hide his or her face in an array of places, including the street. The law went into effect in 2011.

The court's Grand Chamber rejected the arguments of the French woman in her mid-20s, a practicing Muslim not identified by name. She said she doesn't hide her face at all times, but when she does it is to be at peace with her faith, her culture and convictions. She stressed in her complaint that no one, including her husband, forced her to conceal her face — something of particular concern to French authorities.

Story continues below advertisement

The court ruled that the law's bid to promote harmony in a diverse population is legitimate and doesn't breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Critics of the ban, including human rights defenders, contend the law targets Muslims and stigmatizes Islam. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, estimated at five million, making the issue particularly sensitive.

Under the law, women who cover their faces can be fined up to 150 euros ($205) or be obliged to attend a citizenship class, or both.

When enacted, the law was seen as a security measure, with veiled women considered fundamentalists and potential candidates for extremist views. Another concern was respect for the French model of integration in which people of different origins are expected to assimilate.

The court concluded the ban is a "choice of society," giving France a wide margin of appreciation — all the more so because there is no common ground in Europe on the issue. Only a minority of countries ban face veils.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.