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Headscarf Ban Upheld

DW staff (sp)March 18, 2008

A German court has rejected a bid by a Muslim teacher to wear her headscarf during lessons who argued she be treated the same as nuns at a state school who are permitted to teach in their religious habits.

Young German girls wearing headscarves
The headscarf issue is a hot topic in Germany, a country with many MuslimsImage: dpa

Upholding a regional ban on teachers wearing the Islamic headscarf in public schools, the administrative court in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg ruled that a teacher who converted to Islam will not be allowed to wear her headscarf in the classroom,

The court in Mannheim rejected a bid by 58-year-old Doris Graber who converted to Islam to wear her headscarf during lessons, saying the teacher was violating her obligation to keep religious expression out of the classroom and that the ban fully complied with the country's Basic Law.

"The directive issued by the school administration for those working at the school not to wear such a head covering is lawful," the court said in a statement, summarizing the ruling made Friday.

"This also applies when the teacher in question is an employee with tenure who has worked at a school for several years with such a head covering without complaints from pupils or students."

No to headscarves, yes to habits?

The judges overturned a ruling by a lower court that allowed Graber to wear a headscarf because nuns who taught at state schools were permitted to do so in their religious habits.

The administrative court however rejected Graber's argument that she should be treated the same as three nuns in a public school elsewhere in the state on the grounds of religious equality. The judges however did not give a reason for rejecting the argument.

Doris Graber
Graber argues she should be treated the same as nunsImage: AP

Earlier last week, the state attorney spoke of a "historic exception" in the aforementioned public school where the nuns still teach in habit. The public school, which was formerly a monastery, was taken over by the state and authorities are bound to a contract governing the "exceptions status" of the school, he said.

Graber, who has taught at a joint elementary and secondary school for more than three decades, converted to Islam in 1984. She had worn a traditional Muslim headscarf in the classroom since 1995 during which time no objections were raised.

But in December 2004, the school board in the state capital Stuttgart ordered her to stop covering her head in the classroom on the grounds that it could influence impressionable children, prompting her to go to court.

"I've been wearing a headscarf for 13 years and nobody has taken offence until now," Graber said at a court hearing.

Differing laws on headscarf

Baden-Württemberg was the first of Germany's 16 states to ban the headscarf in schools after it was outlawed in France in 2004.

The French ban sparked a heated debate in Germany and the federal constitutional court, the country's top court, finally ruled that each region had the right to make its own law in this regard.

So far eight out of Germany's 16 states have ordered teachers not to wear the headscarf at schools, though Muslim pupils are generally allowed to do so.

Germany is home to three million Muslims, the majority of them Turkish.