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Rule of Law

Berlin's teacher headscarf ban is illegal, rules top court

August 28, 2020

The ruling is the latest in a long-running legal battle brought by a Muslim woman who was banned from teaching in the city. Some lawmakers are now calling for Berlin's controversial neutrality act to be changed.

Women in headscarves in a Berlin courtroom
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Carstensen

Germany's Federal Labor Court on Thursday ruled that a blanket ban on teachers wearing headscarves in schools in the capital city Berlin was unconstitutional.

The court decision was the latest in a case brought by a Muslim woman who was unable to work as a teacher in state schools in the city because she wore a headscarf.

The woman had been "discriminated against because of her religion," the court ruled.

Read more: Liberal mosque in Berlin draws criticism

What was the case?

The woman initially brought a case to the lower Berlin-Brandenburg labor court after she was told — following a job interview — that she would not be allowed to teach in Berlin if she continued to wear a headscarf.

Teachers in the city were banned from wearing headscarves under the Berlin's neutrality act that forbids civil servants from wearing religious clothing and symbols.

The lower court ruled that headscarves could only be banned if there was a concrete threat to peace at school. In November 2018, the court ordered the city-state Berlin to pay the woman €5,159 ($6,098) in compensation.

Then lawyers on behalf of Berlin appealed the ruling by the Berlin-Brandenburg labor court, citing the neutrality act.

Thursday's ruling was the last stage in the ongoing lawsuit with the federal labor court siding with the lower court's decision.

Both courts referred to a 2015 ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court that ruled that a general headscarf ban at public schools was illegal.

Read more: Unveiling the history of the headscarf

What was the response?

Berlin's Senator of Justice Dirk Behrendt called on Twitter for the law to be changed: "The conflict about the neutrality law should not be allowed to be carried on the backs of the women concerned."

"In a multi-religious society, it must be about what one has in their head and not on their head," he added.

Bernhard Franke, head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination office also welcomed the ruling and called for the neutrality law to be revised to avoid future conflict of interest.

kmm/rt (AFP, epd)