German judges call for headscarf ban in court to show 'neutrality'

The groups said religious symbols could undermine confidence in the legal system

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 09 August 2016 12:17 BST
Two women from France and Belgium brought case after being dismissed from work for refusing to remove headscarves
Two women from France and Belgium brought case after being dismissed from work for refusing to remove headscarves

Two influential German legal associations are calling for headscarves to be banned for judges and lawyers to uphold “neutrality” in court.

Fierce discussion has been sparked by the case of a Muslim lawyer who was banned from wearing a hijab in the Bavarian town of Augsburg earlier this year.

But Aqilah Sandhu won the right to wear the garment after a court ruled that the prohibition was an attack on religious freedom and had no legal basis.

Aqilah Sidhu speaking to Bild News

Now, two of Germany’s largest judges’ unions are calling for a formal ban on headscarves in the courtroom, as well as other religious symbols.

“The neutral clothing of judges should act as an outward signal to all participants in the legal process that the court will objectively and impartially rule on their dispute according to the law,” Sven Rebehn, director of the German Association of Judges, told the Rheinische Post.

“A law on dress codes must but not only be limited to the headscarf, but include other religious clothing or symbols.”

Robert Seegmüller, chairman of the Association of German Administrative Judges, said the required uniform of black robes, white shirt and white bow tie, cravat or neckerchief is important to show that the outcome of a case “does not depend on the person, but solely on what the law says”.

He argued that neutral clothing was particularly important in cases where litigants are non-Muslims, The Local reported.

Germany reverses headscarf ban for Muslim teachers

A possible ban on headscarves for legal representatives in court is also supported by politicians including the ministers of justice for Baden-Württemberg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, who are working on new state laws.

But there is tension between arguments for neutrality and possible violations of religious freedom.

The chairman of the Bundestag's committee on legal affairs, Renate Künast, said a headscarf ban would be a “serious encroachment on the freedom of religion”.

Clothing guidelines were issued by the Federal Ministry of Justice in 2008 but the German constitution does not ban citizens from wearing religious symbols.

Berlin has a “neutrality law” for public sector workers, including teachers, but when a Muslim trainee lawyer was told her position was being reviewed because of her hijab in 2013, an exception was made.

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