One of Germany's states is considering plans to ban girls under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves. The Islamic Council has criticized the proposal, but some teachers say it's a good idea.
Germany's Teachers' Association on Monday welcomed a proposal from the government of the country's most-populous state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to prohibit girls under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves to school.
"A headscarf ban would help, at least generally speaking, to undermine discrimination on religious grounds and anti-religious bullying," the association's president, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, told the mass-circulation daily Bild newspaper.
He acknowledged that the reality may be different for older girls, but called for an end to the "deliberate display of religious symbols among children with religious backgrounds."
NRW Integration Minister Joachim Stamp announced the initiative over the weekend, saying young children should not be made to cover their hair for religious reasons.
Susanne Lin-Klitzing, the head of the German Philological Association, told Bild that in a democracy no sex should be subordinate to another. "A headscarf can be seen as a symbol of that, and so there's no place for it in the classroom."
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Liberal Muslim Seyran Ates, co-founder of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque in Berlin, said a ban was "long overdue."
Muslim girls usually only start wearing the hijab from puberty. But women's rights organization Terre des Femmes expressed concern over what it described as a growing number of veiled girls at elementary schools.
Germany's Islamic Council criticized the NRW proposal for fuelling a debate that was "populist, highly symbolic and devoid of substance."
The council's chairman, Burhan Kesici, said the idea that Muslim girls are forced to cover their hair was outdated. "Compulsory headscarves and a headscarf ban are in the same vein: they both harm Muslims."
He said that although there may be a small number who are forced to wear headscarves, it was "disproportionate and unconstitutional" for the state of NRW to "limit the religious freedom of all Muslim women" because of a suspected minority.
The head of the Conference of Ministers of Education, Helmut Holter, also rejected the idea, adding that there should instead be a greater focus on strengthening democratic education at schools.
"All children should be able to develop into free and self-determined individuals," he told Bild.
Austria's conservative government last week announced a proposal to ban girls from wearing headscarves in nurseries and elementary schools. The chancellor said the so-called "child protection law" aimed to confront the development of "parallel societies."
nm/rt (epd, kna)