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German state bans burqas, niqabs in schools

July 21, 2020

Baden-Württemberg will now ban full-face coverings for all school children. State Premier Winfried Kretschmann said burqas and niqabs did not belong in a free society. A similar rule for teachers was already in place.

London Protest vor französischer Botschaft Frau mit Niqab
Image: Reuters/S. Wermuth

The government of the western German state of Baden-Württemberg agreed on Tuesday to ban full-face coverings, often known as burqa or niqab, in schools.

The new rule comes as the topic of Muslim face coverings has been hotly debated in Germany and follows a ruling by a court in Hamburg that reversed that city's own ban.

Baden-Württemberg's city council's decision to ban full-face coverings, typically worn by ultra-conservative Muslim girls, matches the ban for teachers that is already in effect.

State Premier and prominent Green politician Winfried Kretschmann conceded that cases of full-face veiling in schools were rare, but said that nonetheless, a legal ruling was necessary for the rare cases.

Kretschmann said that full-face veiling did not belong in a free society. But he added that such a ban at the university level, where students are adults, was a more complex question. For now, the rule in Baden-Wurttemberg will only apply to primary and secondary education.

Read more: German authorities, politicians divided on niqab, burqa ban

Controversial debate splits the Green party

Proponents of full-face bans in Germany say they are necessary to protect young girls, that forcing or encouraging them to wear them infringes on their rights. Prominent members of conservative parties, including Julia Klöckner in Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), have called for a nationwide full-face veil ban.

The Greens have been split on the issue, but in the case of school kids in Baden-Württemberg, they sided with the CDU. Baden-Württemberg Green party leaders Sandra Detzer and Oliver Hildenbrand have previously referred to the burqa and the niqab "symbols of oppression."

Read more: Where are 'burqa bans' in Europe?

But opponents say that such rulings can lead to the marginalization of Muslim communities in Germany. A school student in Hamburg recently fought and won a legal battle allowing her to wear the attire, though the court noted that a ban might be possible if the state's school laws were altered, which local politicians are now working on.

Filiz Polat, migration policy spokesperson for the Greens'  federal parliamentary group, has said that the freedom to wear religious symbols or not was one of the features of a democratic society.

Currently, full-face veils have been banned in neighboring countries such as The Netherlands, France, Denmark and Austria.

A 2019 YouGov poll released found that 54% of respondents in Germany would support a ban on burqas.

jcg/msh (epd, dpa)