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German primary school teacher barred from wearing hijab

Berlin's neutrality law bars the wearing of overt religious symbols and clothing for state employees on duty.

Berlin

A court in the German capital, Berlin, has ruled that the city was right to bar a Muslim teacher, who wears a hijab (headscarf), from taking classes in a primary school, rejecting her discrimination complaint.

Justice Arne Boyer said on Wednesday that the city state's so-called neutrality law, which bars the wearing of overt religious symbols and clothing for state employees on duty, weighed stronger than the right to free religious expression.

"Primary school children should be free of the influence that can be exerted by religious symbols," said Martin Dressler, a court spokesman.

The court, however, found that the young woman, who was not publicly named and did not appear at the court hearing, is allowed to continue teaching older vocational students in a Berlin public secondary school.

Appeal possible

The ruling, which was still subject to a possible appeal, was expected to impact a wider debate on the issue in Germany, where rules on the hijab differ between the 16 federal states.

The hijab is a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion.

German national law bans all civil servants from covering their faces (this includes the wearing of niqab and burkas - the full veils worn by some Muslim women) except for when it is required for health and safety reasons, such as firefighters wearing breathing masks.

However, there is no nationwide ban on civil servants wearing the Muslim hijab, and many states weigh the tension between freedom of religion and civil servants' neutrality rules on a case-by-case basis.

The predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria recently ordered Christian crosses, which already hang on walls in schools and courtrooms, to also be fixed in the entrance halls of state administration buildings.

Germany's Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that a general ban on teachers wearing headscarves was against the right to religious freedom. States have different ways of dealing with the issue.


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