Germany's most populous state, North-Rhine Westphalia, joins seven other states in forbidding teachers in public schools from wearing the Muslim headscarf.
Critics say the ban is unconstitutional
The law banning Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves was adopted on Wednesday by the regional parliament of the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where the conservative Christian Democrats hold a majority. The Social Democrats and the Greens voted against it.
That means that Muslim teachers in half of all German states are forbidden to wear headscarves. With the exception of Berlin, those states -- Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Bremen, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Saarland -- are all in the western part of Germany, and the majority of the country's 8 million Turks live there and in the capital.
The Central Council of Muslims in Germany, which represents 3 million Muslims, called the new law unconstitutional because it does not treat all religions as equal, banning only the headscarf and not the Christian cross or any other religious symbols.
They argue that the measure practically bans Muslim women who wear traditional headscarves from working as teachers. Furthermore, young women students who adhere to Muslim traditions are now practically expelled form the workplace.
Biggest Turkish community outside Turkey
The hijab, or headscarf, meant to shield Muslim women from the eyes of men outside their family, has been the subject of growing debate in several parts of Europe for more than a decade. But it especially intensified following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Germany has increased its integration efforts regarding immigrants but grapples with sensitive issues such as headscarves
Amid heightened fears that wearing a veil is a symbol of fundamentalist Islam, the headscarf issue on another level also reflects sensitive topics such as the modern secular identities of European states, the compatibility of Islam with largely Christian Europe, the acceptance of immigrants, integration and religious rights.
There was a heated debate in Germany, the home to the world's biggest Turkish community outside Turkey, about whether headscarves should be banned in schools in 2003, when such a law was proposed in France. It was adopted by the French parliament in 2004.
Baden-Württemberg was the first German state to take action, passing a law in 2003 forbidding teachers to wear the attire. But Germany's highest tribunal, the Constitutional Court, ruled soon after that Baden-Württemberg was wrong to forbid a Muslim teacher from wearing a headscarf in the classroom. It did say, however, that Germany's 16 states could legislate independently to ban religious apparel if it was deemed to unduly influence children, which has subsequently created a patchwork quilt of varying rules throughout the country.
Teacher Fereshta Ludin of Afghani origin brought the first case in 2003 to keep her job in Baden-Württemberg
Expelled from the workplace
Muslim groups have fiercely criticized the bans as compromising their freedom of religious expression. Muslims makes up Germany's third largest religious community, after Protestants and Catholics.
The German state laws tend to stop short of limits set by controversial new legislation in neighboring France which outlaws Islamic headscarves and other religious insignia in state schools outright, applying to both teachers and students. Still, in some states such as Berlin, the wearing of headscarves by Muslims is banned for all civil servants.