France votes to ban the burqa

The French parliament gave overwhelming approval on Tuesday to a Bill that will ban Muslim women from covering their faces in public – but the law still faces possible hurdles in the Constitutional Court.

With the Socialist Opposition abstaining, the Senate voted 246–1 for the Bill, which was passed by a majority in July by the National Assembly, the lower chamber. The law, which does not refer to Islam, prohibits the face being covered in public, whether in the open air or in indoor sites such as shops, transport, universities, hospital and places of entertainment.

The law, which is supported by more than 80 per cent of voters, according to a poll last month, is aimed at dampening a small but growing drift towards fundamentalist Islam.

Fines of €150 (£126) will eventually be imposed on women wearing niqabs or other veils. Men who force their wives or daughters to cover themselves for religious reasons face penalties of up to €30,000 and a one-year jail term. The Government is confident that the law will emerge unscathed from review by the Constitutional Council, which has power to reject new laws or order amendments if they are deemed to breach the Republic’s founding text.

Opponents, who are mainly from human rights groups and sections of the Left, argue that the ban violates guarantees on religion and freedom of expression in French law and the European Convention on Human Rights.