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France: Law Prohibiting the Wearing of Clothing Concealing One’s Face in Public Spaces Found Constitutional

(Oct. 18, 2010) In its decision number 2010-613 DC of October 7, 2010, the French Constitutional Council found the law prohibiting the wearing of clothing covering one's face in public spaces constitutional, with one reservation. (Decision no. 2010-613DC du 07 octobre 2010, loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l'espace public, Constitutional Council official website (Oct. 12, 2010),
.) The reservation applies to places of worship open to the public; in such places, the prohibition is not applicable.

The law reviewed by the Constitutional Council provides that “no one, in a public space, may wear clothing intended to conceal the face.” “Public space” is defined as including “public streets, places open to the public or used for public services.” The law sets forth some exemptions and punishes a violation of the ban with a maximum fine of €150 (about US$211). (Loi 2010-1192 du 11 octobre 2010 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l'espace public, LEGIFRANCE, http://www.legifrance.gouv.f
, File: les autres textes législatifs et réglementaires).

The Council held that:

Whereas articles 1 and 2 of the referred law has the purpose of responding to the appearance of practices, extremely rare until now, consisting of concealing one's face in public spaces; and given that the legislators have considered that such practices may constitute a danger to public security and disregard the minimal requirements of life in society; that the legislators also estimated that women hiding their faces, voluntarily or involuntarily, are placed in a situation of exclusion and inferiority that is manifestly incompatible with the constitutional principles of liberty and equality; that in adopting the referred provisions, the legislators have completed and generalized rules to protect public order that until now were only reserved to specific situations;

Whereas considering the objectives pursued by the legislators and taking into account the penalty the law instituted in case of violation of the ban, the legislators have adopted provisions that ensure, between the safeguard of public order and the guaranties of the constitutional rights protected, a conciliation that is not manifestly disproportionate; and given that, however, the prohibition to cover one's face in public places could not, without violating article 10 of the 1789 Declaration, restrict the exercise of religious freedom in places of worship opened to the public; that given this reservation, articles 1 to 3 of the referred law are not contrary to the Constitution;

Whereas article 4 of the referred law, which punishes with one year of imprisonment and a fine of €30,000 [about US$42,200] the act of forcing anyone to conceal the face, and its articles 5 to 7 relative to its entering into force and its application are not contrary to the Constitution;

Decides that, with the reservation stated, the law prohibiting the wearing of clothing concealing one's face within public spaces is constitutional. (Constitutional Council, supra.)