Girls' headscarf ban debate ties Merkel's conservatives in knots
A debate over whether to ban Muslim girls under 14 from wearing headscarves in public, prompted by a similar proposal in Austria, has divided Germany's governing conservatives.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, already struggling to paper over cracks in her month-old coalition cabinet, is unlikely to welcome a call for action from members of her own camp that exposes the country's uneasy attempts to integrate its 4 million Muslims. That process has taken on added complexity following the influx of over one million mostly Middle Eastern and North African migrants in 2015 and 2016 and sharp election gains for the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Germany's parliament already passed a law last year preventing civil servants, judges and soldiers from wearing full-face veils at work.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a member of the Bavarian CSU conservative party and Farm Minister Julia Kloeckner, from Merkel's more moderate Christian Democrats (CDU), said they now backed a headscarf ban for schoolgirls. Kloeckner argued it was needed to prevent children from growing up with "crude gender stereotypes".
Clothing controversy – the headscarf debate in Germany
For years now, the wearing of headscarves and veils for religious reasons has been the periodic focus of debates and conflicts in public life. We present the key phases of the headscarf debate in Germany.
1961: The Federal Republic and Turkey reach a labour recruitment agreement. Millions of Turks come to Germany as guest workers in the decades that follow – most of them remain. This also introduces Germany society to the headscarf as a feature of female Muslim attire
2002: In its Islam Charter, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany commits to the constitution while at the same time demanding a dignified life for Muslims in the Federal Republic. The Council says that this includes the wearing of the headscarf
2003: The Federal Constitutional Court upholds the ruling of the Federal Labour Court in Erfurt of 2002, which says there are insufficient grounds to dismiss someone for wearing a headscarf for religious reasons in a non-governmental place of work
2003: After years of legal wrangling, the Constitutional Court rules with five votes to three in the case of Fereshta Ludin that a female Muslim teacher cannot be prohibited from wearing a headscarf during tuition without a specific law. This puts the onus on state parliaments to legislate on the matter and in the years that follow, these enact differing regulations
2004: The European Court of Human Rights deals with the headscarf issue for the first time and upholds the ban imposed by Turkish training institutions. The judges in Strasbourg reject the complaint that the law violates the right to religious freedom and the right to freedom of expression
2011: The Federal Labour Court in Erfurt rules that the wearing of a cap in school can be regarded as a religious statement and may therefore be banned. The court goes on to say that the head covering "is evidently being worn as a substitute for an Islamic headscarf". The case is taken to Karlsruhe
2015: The Federal Constitutional Court throws out a blanket headscarf ban for female Muslim teachers in public schools. A ban is only possible, it says, if the wearing of the Muslim head covering poses a concrete risk of causing disruption in schools
2016: The Administrative Court in Augsburg rules that the eight-year headscarf ban in Bavaria for trainee lawyers is unlawful and says that it constitutes interference in religious and educational freedom with no legal basis
But other conservatives, including integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, on Tuesday said that such a ban would create constitutional problems and challenge parental rights.
Seehofer, whose Bavarian CSU bled support to the AfD in the September national election, aims to woo back those voters before a regional Bavarian ballot in October, in part by taking a more hardline stance on security and immigration. He drew a firm rebuke from Merkel last month after saying Islam did not belong to Germany.
Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Merkel's squabbling coalition, generally oppose a ban on headscarves.
Ibrahim Yetim, the party's expert on integration, called it "half-baked" in comments to the German Catholic News Agency on Monday.
Austria, where conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has forged a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), announced plans for a headscarf ban in primary schools and kindergartens on 4 April to combat what the government sees as a threat to Austrian mainstream culture. (Reuters)