Opinion: German Teachers Don′t Need Headscarf Ban | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 28.02.2009
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Opinion: German Teachers Don't Need Headscarf Ban

According to Human Rights Watch, the law banning female teachers from wearing the Islamic headscarf in parts of Germany violates the right of Muslim women. DW's Peter Philipp thinks Germany needs the freedom to choose.


Politicians and judges are taking the easy way out when they ban teachers from wearing headscarves.

The majority of female teachers aren't affected because they aren’t Muslim. And among their male colleagues in Germany, there are hardly any religious Jews who show up in the classroom wearing a hat or yarmulke. This means that the law affects only those few Muslim women in Germany who so well-integrated that they have chosen to become teachers. They are ready to be a part of this society and yet do not want to have to give up their religion and its public symbols.

Peter Philipp

Peter Philipp

What are the government and the courts afraid of? That Muslim elementary school teachers will convert little Hans or Fritz to their religion? But that can’t seriously be the case: if teachers were really doing that, then one could -- in fact, one would have to -- ban the practice. Just as Christian teachers aren't allowed to evangelize at school.

The deciding factor in the hiring of a teacher should be her professional qualifications, and only her professional qualifications. As the saying goes, it’s what’s inside the head that counts, not what’s on top of it. By banning teachers from wearing headscarves, one sends an ominous signal: The children learn that there is something false or forbidden about wearing a headscarf. In the future they will view headscarf-wearing Muslim women, who they now encounter all across Germany, from this perspective.

A ban would officially sanction isolation and discrimination. Under the pretence of wanting to curb radical tendencies, the government prohibits mature citizens from wearing a piece of clothing that they consider to be an indispensible attribute of their religion. To protect women from being forced to wear a headscarf, one would have to follow the French example by banning female students from wearing headscarves at school. A teachers, however, should be allowed to freely choose what she wants to wear.

Or one could follow the example of the so-called crucifix judgment: the German Federal Constitutional Court originally found that crucifixes could not be hung in the classroom if someone was offended by it. But in practice, things have worked out differently: If anyone objects to the crucifix, they have alternatives.

Similarly, anyone offended by a teacher wearing a headscarf could switch to another class. The fact is that none of the headscarf lawsuits have involved offended parents. They were always initiated by public officials or politicians. And for them, the issue most certainly had to do with something other than the education of German school children.

Author: Peter Philipp

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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