German state plans to ban religious symbols from courts | News | DW | 20.11.2018
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German state plans to ban religious symbols from courts

The state government of Lower Saxony is drafting a law that would ban judges and prosecutors from wearing religious clothing or symbols. Germany's justice minister has welcomed the plans.

The  government of Germany's state of Lower Saxony plans to ban for judges and prosecutors from wearing religious symbols such as crosses or headscarves in the state's courtrooms.

Promoters of the measure say it is aimed at making clear that judges and prosecutors are neutral and free of any religious or ideological bias.

The plan has the support of Germany's Justice Minister Katarina Barley, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

"A court decides independently from religious beliefs, and this neutrality must be visible from the outside,"Barley told the local newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Tuesday.

A draft law is reportedly in the works at Lower Saxony's justice ministry, according to local broadcaster NDR, which had obtained a copy of the plan.

Watch video 03:17

German state mulls headscarf ban for girls under 14

However, the draft has not yet been proposed and the legislative process has not officially begun.

A spokesman at the state's justice ministry told DW that the state government would likely deal with the law next year, and that the measure would still need to be approved by Lower Saxony's state parliament.

Lower Saxony's Justice Minister Barbara Havliza told DW that "everyone in the court must have the impression that judges or prosecutors are completely free of religious or ideological beliefs."

German judges in support of a ban

The German Association of Judges (DRB) said it is in favor of the ban on religious clothing and symbols in the courtroom.

Sven Rebehn, the association's managing director, told DW in a statement: "The judiciary is committed to strict neutrality. Therefore religious clothing and ideological, political and religious symbols are incompatible with public officials in a courtroom."

Rebehn added that lawmakers should make this clear through "explicit bans."

A controversial topic

The wearing of religious symbols, headscarves in particular, in public spaces has been dealt with by German courts numerous times.

Just last March, a court in Munich, in the southern German state of Bavaria, confirmed a regional court's decision that a law trainee could not wear a headscarf during public appearances in court.

At the time, the court said its decision was meant to ensure that there would be "no doubt about the independence and neutrality" of the courtroom.

Bavaria's state government, on the other hand, recently introduced a decree ordering that a "clearly visible crucifix" be displayed in public buildings.

In May, a court in Berlin stood behind city authorities who had barred a primary school teacher from wearing a headscarf during classes.

The court said the decision upheld the state's neutrality law. A court spokesman had said that "primary school children should be free of the influence that can be exerted by religious symbols."