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Kiel University bans full-face veil in classrooms

February 13, 2019

A spokesman said the move was not exceptional, citing similar decisions by other institutions of higher education. But some politicians have called the decision "untenable," saying it undermines religious freedom.

A woman wearing a niqab
Image: picture alliance/dpa/P. Endig

Kiel University on Wednesday announced that it has banned full-face coveringsin classrooms, citing the need for open communication that includes facial expressions and gestures.

However, the university in the capital of the German state Schleswig-Holstein clarified that its action did not comprise a full ban. "On campus, students may wear a burqa or niqab, which only has one eyeslit," said university spokesman Boris Pawlowski.

Pawlowski said the decision was not exceptional since other universities, such as the University of Giessen, had imposed similar bans. State Education Minister Karin Prien earlier this month backed the decision and pledged to amend legislation to extend it to all schools in the state.

Read more: Opinion: German court ruling to allow headscarves for teachers means freedom for all


The decision found support among Germany's right-wing politicians, including Alice Weidel, who co-chairs the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

"The total refusal of social communication by wearing the full veil is a provocation against our civilization's minimum standards," Weidel said. She described the ban as "correct" and "necessary."

But others hit back, saying the decision has nothing to do with education. Lasse Petersdotter, a local politician with the Green Party, said he believed the decision was "untenable" and possibly violated constitutional rights, such as freedom of religion.

Petersdotter also contested the rationale for the ban, arguing that "lecturers and professors are neither capable of nor tasked with evaluating the facial expressions and gestures of the students."

Read more: Full-face veil ban: How laws differ across Europe

Different approaches

In 2015, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled that a blanket ban on teachers wearing headscarves was against the right to religious freedom. However, states have dealt with the matter in varying ways.

Last year, a Berlin court ruled that city authorities had taken the right decision to uphold the state's neutrality law by barring a primary school teaching from wearing a headscarf during classes.

But in 2017, a Muslim teacher won a lawsuit against Berlin city authorities, arguing that they had discriminated against her because she wore a headscarf. The teacher was awarded €8,680 euros ($9,800), although the court noted it was a one-off ruling.

Such bans remain a subject of heated debate across Europe. Several countries, including Austria and Denmark, have put in place partial or full bans on full-face coverings.

Read more: Germany introduces extremism counseling service

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Discrimination against Muslim jobseekers

ls/msh (dpa, KNA)