Austria approves ban on religious headscarves in primary schools

Bill likely to be challenged in court on grounds of discrimination

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 16 May 2019 10:56
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Austria's bill will only target Muslim girls as the law makes exceptions for clothing which only partly covers the hair such as Jewish and Sikh head coverings
Austria's bill will only target Muslim girls as the law makes exceptions for clothing which only partly covers the hair such as Jewish and Sikh head coverings

Austria’s parliament has approved a law to ban girls in primary schools from wearing headscarves, adding to the country’s existing restrictions on veils.

The bill is likely to be challenged as discriminatory in Austria’s Constitutional Court.

The bill passed late on Wednesday with support from the governing coalition of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz‘s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Almost all of the opposition voted against it. Former Social Democrat Party education minister Sonja Hammerschmid accused the government of focusing on chasing headlines rather than acting to improve child welfare.

The measure does not specifically mention Muslim women, but bans wearing “ideologically or religiously characterised clothing” covering the head, and specifically refers to items “that cover the whole or large parts of the hair”.

Austria’s previous government had previously prohibited full-face veils in courts, schools and other “public places”.

Police officers, judges, magistrates and public prosecutors were also already banned from wearing headscarves.

The government said the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish yarmulke would not be affected as they only partially cover the hair.

Exceptions will also be made for head coverings for medical reasons or for protection against rain or snow.

The ÖVP’s Rudolf Taschner said the bill was designed to “free girls from submission”, and the FPÖ’s education spokesman Wendelin Mölzer said the law was drawn up to send a message “against political Islam” and to promote integration.

Austria’s official Muslim community organisation the IGGOe described the legislation as a “destructive” law and previously condemned the proposal for a ban as “shameless” and a “diversionary tactic”.

The IGGOe said in any case only a “miniscule number” of girls would be affected.

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