France rules against burkini swimwear for religious reasons

France rules against burkini swimwear for religious reasons

PARIS (AP) — France’s top administrative court ruled Tuesday against allowing body-covering “burkini” swimsuits in public pools for religious reasons, arguing it violates the government’s principle of neutrality toward the public. religion.

Although only worn by a small number of people in France, the head-to-ankle burkini sparks intense political debate in the country.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin hailed the Council of State’s ruling as a “victory for secularism.” Some Muslim women denounced it as an unfair targeting of their faith and their bodies, and based on outdated misconceptions about Islam.

The city of Grenoble, led by a mayor from the Greens party, voted last month to allow women to wear burkinis in public swimming pools after a campaign by local activists. The city also voted to allow women to swim topless, as part of a broader relaxation of swimwear rules.

The prefect, or senior government official, of the Grenoble region blocked the burkini’s decision, arguing that it went against France’s secular principles.

The Council of State confirmed the prefect’s move on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the Grenoble vote was made “to satisfy a religious demand” and “harms the neutrality of public services.”

The ruling was the first under a controversial law, championed by President Emmanuel Macron, intended to protect “republican values” from what his government calls the threat of religious extremism.

Dress rules at public pools in France are strict, for what authorities say are hygiene reasons: caps are required and baggy swimsuits or other bulky clothing are generally prohibited. Wetsuits are also not allowed in many pools, as are some sun protection suits.

Some other cities and towns allow burkinis in public pools. The city of Rennes is among them, but its decision was aimed at relaxing swimsuit rules and was not based on religious reasons.

The mayor of Grenoble argued that women should be able to wear what they want and express their religious conviction in swimming pools as well as in the street. Opponents of the burkini, who include local officials from the far right but also from the left, argued that the swimsuit represents the oppression of women and a possible gateway to Islamic radicalism.

Six years ago, the Council of State overturned a local ban on the burkini, amid shock and anger after some Muslim women were ordered to remove their body-covering garments on the beaches of the French Riviera.

For Fatima Bent, of the Muslim feminist group Lallab, Tuesday’s ruling is “a clear step backwards” that will further isolate women who cover their heads and bodies in public.

While some Muslim women are forced by male relatives to cover up, she said, “Muslim women are not homogeneous. (The French authorities) look at Muslim women through a single prism.” She blamed the remnants of the colonial era on the “fixation with the body of Muslim women by politicians who want to control them.”

Grenoble’s decision on topless swimming has not been challenged in court.

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