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France: Council of State Advises Against Complete Ban on Full Islamic Veil

(Apr. 19, 2010) On March 30, 2010, the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative court, acting in its capacity as legal adviser to the French government, presented a report on the legal basis for a complete ban on the wearing of the full Islamic veil (Conseil d'Etat, Etude relative aux possibilit├ęs juridiques d'interdiction du port du voile int├ęgral, Mar. 30., 2010 , available at http://www.conseil-etat.fr/cde/node.php?articleid=2000). In this document, the Council states that it could not find an indisputable legal foundation for a complete ban, which most likely would violate the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. (Id.)

The Council noted that partial bans on the wearing of the full veil already exist. Public servants are prohibited from wearing veils while acting in their official capacity, and the veil is also prohibited in public schools. These prohibitions are based on French secular principles. The Council found that there also exist prohibitions in situations that require that the veil not be worn for public security reasons and to protect against fraud, such as when it is necessary to have access to high security areas, to conduct official proceedings such as marriage and voting, or to acquire identification documents. (Id.)

The Council is of the opinion that further prohibitions on the wearing of the full veil based on reasons of public security and fraud could be justified, in connection with other spaces or situations. As for persons who would continue to cover the face despite the prohibitions, the Council proposes to create, as a main penalty, an injunction to compel them to submit to mediation or, if the judge find it necessary, to a fine as a complementary penalty. (Id.)

Finally, the Council recommends the creation of a criminal offense that would punish forcing a female to cover her face in public by the use of violence, threat, constraint, or abuse of power or authority, by reason of her belonging to a specific category of persons, notably by reason of her sex. (Id.)