Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bill for total burqa ban presented to French cabinet

French justice minister Michele Alliot-Marie presented Wednesday a draft bill that would ban the all-body Islamic veil in all public areas in the country.

If the bill becomes law, any woman wearing the veil, called a burqa, in public would be liable to a fine of 150 euros ($184), or be obliged to take a class in citizenship, or both. In addition, anyone forcing someone to conceal her face because of her gender would face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to 15,000 euros, because it demeans the dignity of a human being. “Wearing clothes intended to conceal the face, in particular the all-body veil, challenges the rules that form the republican pact,” the cabinet declared in the official account of its meeting. The law is to go into effect six months after it is passed by both houses of the French parliament. It is scheduled to be put before parliament in July and be voted on in the fall.
Passage seems inevitable since the ruling UMP party and its allies have a commanding majority in both houses. In addition, opposition Socialist lawmakers are likely to support it as well. However, an important government advisory body has questioned its legality.
The Council of State noted that the European Court of Human Rights has enshrined the right of individuals to live their lives according to their convictions. It would therefore be difficult to use the argument that wearing the veil insults the dignity of a woman if she wears it voluntarily. A law against concealing one’s face in public areas because of potential security and fraud issues would only be justified in certain places and with certain procedures, not everywhere and at all times. DPA

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