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German mayor fires intern for wearing headscarf

Kate BradyAugust 25, 2016

The Mayor of Luckenwalde, eastern Germany, has sacked a Palestinian intern for refusing to remove her headscarf at work. Elisabeth Herzog-von der Heide said the garment violated the neutrality of the town hall.

Woman wearing a headscarf
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Local German newspaper "Märkische Allgemeine" reported on Wednesday that the 48-year-old Palestinian woman was fired from her six-week internship with the "Perspectives for refugees" project after just one day.

Social Democrat (SPD) and mayor of Luckenwalde, Elisabeth Herzog-von der Heide said she was unable to provide the intern with a suitable field of work as she refused to take off her headscarf in the presence of men.

"The Islamic headscarf is a means of expression of religious belief," Herzog-von der Heide said.

Allowing the woman to wear her headscarf would have violated the neutrality in the town hall, she argued, adding that there are no crucifixes on the walls of the building. In future, Herzog-von der Heide said that this would be clarified before the internship.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician Sven Petke criticized Herzog-von der Heide's decision.

"There are no legal grounds for this decision," Petke said, adding that Germany's Federal Constitutional Court had ruled that personal beliefs and their connection to particular items of clothing shouldn't be reprehensible.

"That's different from a crucifix on the wall," he said.

Luckenwalde town hall
Luckenwalde town hall in Brandenburg, eastern GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R.Hirschberger

Right-wing praise

The decision to fire the Palestinian intern was applauded, however, by right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

"If the [Christian] cross is not permitted at the premises of the town hall, then there must be no special treatment for Muslims," said AFD MP Thomas Jung. "The mayor, therefore, deserves respect, and not scolding for her uncomfortable decision."

Although allowed in Germany, wearing a headscarf to work, particularly in legal or public sectors, has long been a controversial topic. Berlin is also currently debating banning the burqa - the full-body garment worn by some Muslim women.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week spoke out against a burqa ban, but expressed her concerns about its role in facilitating the integration of Muslim minorities.

"In my view," she said, "A fully-covered woman has little chance of integrating in Germany."