The Veil Ban: S.A.S. v France

Burqa Ban Clashes In France

On October 11, 2010, France enacted a law forbidding citizens to cover their faces in any public space.  The law came into effect on April 11, 2011.  This law is intended to regulate the burqa and niqab.  It imposes a penalty of a €150 fine and/or mandatory completion of a “citizenship training” course for any person defying the ban.  The French prime minister told public employees to forbid entry to all public facilities (e.g. train stations, airports, courts, museums and courts) and to refuse service to those citizens that have their face covered.  This is to be done even if the citizen offers to show their face for identification purposes.  One year after the ban took effect, the French Ministry of Interior reported that 299 women were fined for wearing a full-face veil.

On the very same day this law took effect, Ms. S.A.S., a French national and a practicing Muslim, filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights. She alleges that the criminalization of the covering of her face while in public space is a violation of Article 3 (the prohibition of degrading treatment), Article 8 (the right to respect for private life), Article 9 (the right to freedom of religion), Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), and Article 14 (the prohibition against discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She declares that she wears the burqa for her faith and personal convictions. She is not under any form of pressure to dress in this manner.  This is the way she dresses both in private and in public.  She adds that she does not wear the niqab in public all the time.  She has no problem agreeing to not wearing the niqab in public all the time.  For example, she agrees that it is appropriate that she should remove the face covering for places that require security checks such as an airport.  However, she would like to be given the freedom to be able to make the choice of wearing the niqab under certain situations such as for religious events during Ramadan.  Under this law, she has no say in the matter and is completely forbidden to cover her face in public.  The Grand Chamber will hear this case on November 27, 2013.

How do you think this case will turn out?  Is Ms. S.A.S. being unreasonable?  How strong is her case?  Are there valid reasons for this law?  Is this law too restrictive?  Unwarranted?

Picture: Yahoo

Source: ECHR

4 comments

  1. Although I believe that this law is a clear infringement on freedom of religion, I hope this law stays in effect. First off, we should be able to see the people we encounter everyday without them hiding their identity. Every country should enact this law since it is important to be able to identify a potential threat and finding someone when needed. Even though this may impede on one’s religion, I do not find it necessary to the least bit that your religion requires you to cover your entire face. This law is facially neutral and applies to everyone! However, it seems to generally affect Muslim women who wear burqas or niqabs. Nevertheless, I think the European Court will dismiss the challenge of this law based on the fact that preserving one’s identity outweighs one’s type of religion.

  2. I mean no offense at all but I must strongly disagree with my colleague Joseph Forunato on this issue. There is no right to seeing the people we encounter everyday without them hiding their identity and for good reason. If there was that law then activities such as plastic surgery, dying your hair color and even wearing make up to a certain degree changes the physical identity yet no ones takes issue with any of those things. In regards to identifying potential threats, I am pretty sure we live in an advanced enough era that when someone is a suspect of a terrorist activity we have the means to trace them and can get past a simple head and face veil. Also, as the article states Ms. S.A.S. is more than willing to take off the face veil when national security demands it so that point of yours is invalid as well. Mr. Fortunato mentions that he can see no reason why Islam dictates that women wear certain facial garbs all the while ignoring the fact that Christianity and Judaism required head covers as well. Strict Jewish women must wear wigs on certain days yet again I see no issue or law being made to declare that illegal even though that is a clear method of changing or covering one’s identity. This law is overreaching and is the reasons behind it are an illegitimate means to needlessly oppress a specific group.

  3. Respectfully, I too disagree with Mr. Fortunato. There is no law saying we must be able to identify everyone we see on a regular basis. In addition, Ms. S.A.S. is not being unreasonable at all. She wears her burqa for her faith, just like I wear my cross showing my Catholic faith everyday. Furthermore, she agrees that where identification and safety are an issue, she removes her niqab. If I were told that I could not wear my cross for some illogical reason, I would think it an infringement of my human rights, as well. Ms. S.A.S. cites violations of Article 3 (the prohibition of degrading treatment), Article 8 (the right to respect for private life), Article 9 (the right to freedom of religion), Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), and Article 14 (the prohibition against discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this context, with these facts, Ms. S.A.S. makes out a strong case. I believe considering the totality of the circumstances, the Grand Chamber should find a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  4. This is certainly a hot button issue right now. France led the way with their so-called “burqa ban” but has since been followed by Belgium and, more recently, a Swiss canton. The bans veil themselves (pun intended) in claims of public safety and women’s rights, but in reality they are nothing more than state-sponsored discrimination. While there are certainly public safety concerns (e.g., at airports, as noted above), the bans are by no means narrowly tailored to address these concerns. It appears that Ms. S.A.S. is being completely reasonable with her requests. I would be shocked if the ECHR upheld this law. The ECHR tends to err on the side of caution when it is a question of human rights, so France would have to put together an extremely compelling case both showing that (1) these garments are in fact a threat to public safety, and (2) the complete ban is the least restrictive means to address this threat. I highly doubt that France could carry its burden on either of these prongs.

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