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Germany: Parliament Debates Burqa and Niqab Ban for Civil Servants and Soldiers

(Mar. 22, 2017) On March 9, 2017, the German Bundestag (parliament) debated a draft act that would prohibit federal civil servants performing official duties and soldiers in general from wearing full body and face veils (burqas) and face veils (niqab).  Exceptions would be allowed for medical reasons (protection against infections) or for official purposes.  The ban would also apply to officials coordinating the federal elections.  (Gesetzentwurf der Bundesregierung, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zu bereichsspezifischen Regelungen der Gesichtsverhüllung [Draft Act of the Federal Government, Draft Act to Regulate Certain Aspects of Face Veils], DEUTSCHER BUNDESTAG: DRUCKSACHEN UND PROTOKOLLE [BT-Drs.] 18/11180 (Feb. 15, 2017), arts. 1-4.)

Furthermore, the draft act would allow denying a voter the right to vote if the face veil prevents the proper identification of the person.  In addition, the draft act states that it must be possible for the police and other officials to compare the face of any German or foreigner to their ID picture or passport for identification purposes.  (Id. arts. 5-8.)

Reactions to the Proposed Ban

Tim Ostermann, a member of the Christian Democratic Union party and a proponent of the ban, remarked that all people who live in Germany must adhere to the national laws and rules.  He stated that, in his view, “the rule to show your face is one of the central rules in this country. Covering your face or wearing a veil violates one of the fundamental values of an open society.” (Deutscher Bundestag [German Parliament], Plenarprotokoll 18/221 [Plenary Protocol 18/221], Mar. 9, 2017, at 22265, Bundestag website.)

Lars Castellucci, a member of the Social Democratic Party, and Ulla Jelpke from the Left Party both pointed out that the draft act seemed to regulate a non-existent problem.  They stated that they had never encountered a civil servant who was wearing a burqa or a niqab and that only a small minority of women in general wears them in public.  (Id. at 22267.)

Proposed State Ban

The state government of Bavaria recently introduced a similar draft act that would ban face veils for civil servants; for people working in public services; for those on elections boards; for those working in universities, schools, and kindergartens; and for students.  Furthermore, the draft act would allow the prohibition of face veils as a condition for a public gathering and would allow denying a voter the right to vote if the face veil prevents the proper identification of the person.  It would also authorize the police to request a person to remove her face veil for identification purposes.  (Entwurf eines Gesetzes über Verbote der Gesichtsverhüllung in Bayern [Draft Act to Prohibit Face Veils in Bavaria], Bavarian State Ministry of the Interior website (last visited Mar. 21, 2017).)