“The Issue” – The Court struck down the legislation forbidding the wearing of “religious clothing that is associated with a covering of the head” on the ground that it was discriminatory.
On Friday, 11th December 2020, Austria’s Constitutional Court declared that a law banning girls aged up to 10 from wearing headscarves in schools was discriminatory, overturning the measure introduced by the ruling conservatives while allied with the far right.
The legislation did not specify that the ban referred to headscarves. Instead, it forbade the wearing of “religious clothing that is associated with a covering of the head”. The Austrian court thus found that this legislation was clearly aimed at Muslim headscarves, contravening the principle of equality in relation to freedom of religion, belief and conscience.”
The court, in its decision, stated that the legislation was against the state’s duty to treat officially recognised religions equally, and the principle that singling out any one of them requires special justification, it ruled.
“The selective ban… applies exclusively to Muslim schoolgirls and thereby separates them in a discriminatory manner from other pupils,” court president Christoph Grabenwarter said.
The legislation was passed in May 2019 under the previous coalition of the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), just days before that government collapsed due to a corruption scandal. Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has consistently taken a hard line on immigration, and his stance overlaps significantly with that of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which says Islam has no place in Austrian society. The two parties had earlier mentioned that head coverings worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish kippa would not be affected.
The body that officially represents Austria’s Muslims, the Islamic Faith Community, which contested the hijab ban legislation in court has welcomed the ruling.
“Ensuring equal opportunities and self-determination for girls and women in our society is not achieved through bans,” it said in a statement.
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