Wednesday, November 27, 2013

France: Appelate Court Overturns High Court Ruling on Firing of Staff for Refusing to Remove Head Scarf

According to The Associated Press, a Paris appellate court, overturned a high court decision, ruled on Wednesday (November 27) that a private nursery school was justified in firing an assistant director who refused to remove her Islamic head scarf while on the job.

The decision was the fourth in the emblematic case of the firing of Fatima Afif at the Baby Loup nursery school five years ago. It was likely to provide justification for lawmakers and associations seeking a law to ensure the highly prized French value of "laicité," or secularism.

Laws already ban head scarves in public school classrooms and face-covering veils in public spaces. There is no French law regulating religious apparel in private institutions, schools or companies. Many Muslims have seen the two laws in place as an infringement on their religious freedom and freedom of expression.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday opened a hearing in another case in which a Muslim woman who covers her face is contesting the face veil ban, which became effective in 2011.

COMMENT: In the case of the nursery school, the appellate court ruled that Baby Loup had a right to impose internal rules on its employees banning head scarves and other ostentatious religious symbols "to transcend the multiculturalism" of those using its services. It noted that the school received some state subsidies.

The Court of Cassation ruled in favor of Ms. Afif in March 2013, overturning decisions by a lower court and a labor court.

The French government's Observatory of Laicité, which helps guide official action regarding respect for secularism, noted after the ruling that it had recommended a circular containing guidelines outlining what the law allows and what it forbids. The Observatory said it will be issuing its own guide on the issue.

Numerous sectors in France, from political parties to professionals such as social workers, fear the country's constitutionally guaranteed value of secularism is being undermined by immigration and its increasingly diverse citizenry, particularly by Muslims.