Berlin court: neutrality law above German religious freedom, bans teacher headscarves in primary school

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

On Wednesday, a state labour court in the German capital Berlin pronounced the neutrality law of the city-state, which disallows public employees from wearing religious clothing and symbols, was in accordance with the German constitution. Justice Arne Boyer, said the neutrality law was above the freedom of religion. The ruling comes after a female Muslim teacher, who taught in a primary school for a day, complained the neutrality laws prohibited her from wearing a headscarf and violated her freedom to practice any religion.

Public servants across the country are barred from covering their face at work, with some exceptions such as firefighters for whom it is a question of safety. However, the ban does not include the hijab, a headscarf mostly worn by Muslim women. Court spokesperson Martin Dressler said, "Primary school children should be free of the influence that can be exerted by religious symbols".

This ruling came just two weeks after the recently-elected Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder of the Christian Social Union gave orders to hang the Christian cross on every state building, in school classrooms, and the courts, saying it was a "clear avowal of our Bavarian identity and Christian values".

Last year, the Berlin labour court decided that a school discriminated on the basis of religion when it denied a job to another Muslim teacher. The school failed to show how the teacher's headscarf was "a threat to peace at school". The teacher received EUR 8680 (about USD 10,300) as compensation.

Regulations on headscarves are varied amongst the different states of Germany. Teachers in Bremen are not prohibited from wearing a face scarf. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the allowance is on a case-by-case basis. One primary school headteacher in Hesse wrote to parents stating headwear was not allowed in the classroom.

Per the ruling of this case, the teacher can wear a headscarf while teaching secondary school students. She can still appeal against the court's decision.


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