Title: A very French obsession: France, the Islamic headscarf and the struggle between law and politics

Authors: Herman T. Salton

Addresses: Department of International Politics, University of Wales, Room 3.25, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth, SY23 3FE, UK

Abstract: In March 2004 the French Parliament passed a statute prohibiting "the wearing of signs or clothes through which students conspicuously manifest a religious allegiance" at school. Although this piece of legislation was overwhelmingly approved by French MPs and benefited from the support of most French people, it was met with considerable surprise overseas. This article is divided into three parts. Firstly, it explains how the veil controversy emerged and reviews the judicial response that was initially given to it by France's highest administrative tribunal, the Conseil d'État. Secondly, it outlines the numerous attempts made by French MPs to disavow the moderate approach taken by the Conseil d'État in favour of a more restrictive solution that prohibited the Islamic veil. Thirdly, it considers the legal interpretation and judicial application of Statute 228. In so doing, this article aims to carry out the most comprehensive assessment of this piece of legislation yet available in the English language. It concludes that Statute 228 is not the result of anti-religious feelings, as has often been argued, but is the product of a specifically French aversion to the Muslim veil.

Keywords: France; Islamic headscarf; Laïcité; Secularism; Conseil d'État; Islam; law; politics; religious allegiance; religious veil; legal interpretation; judicial application; Muslim veil.

DOI: 10.1504/IJHRCS.2013.055625

International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, 2013 Vol.1 No.2, pp.162 - 193

Received: 05 Sep 2012
Accepted: 11 Sep 2012

Published online: 01 Aug 2013 *

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