Austria top court repeals headscarf ban in schools

An Austrian constitutional court on Friday repealed the law that ban Muslim headscarves in Austria for students in elementary schools, saying it is discriminatory.

The law had been passed in 2019 by a majority of conservative and far-right legislators who argued that the rule protects girls from sexist oppression and from politicised Islamist ideology.

Two children and their parents had appealed against the law that only applies to scarves that cover the entire head, but not to smaller religious head coverings worn by observant Jewish or Sikh boys.

The court’s president, Christoph Grabenwarter, said the rule violates the principles of non-discrimination, religious freedom and freedom of thought as he read the decision.

“There is a risk that [the law] could make it harder for Muslim girls to gain access to education, and it could lead to their social exclusion,’’ he warned.

He also pointed out that headscarves are not only worn on religious grounds, but also for cultural or traditional reasons.

The Austrian Islamic Faith Community (IGGOe), an umbrella organisation, welcomed the court’s decision as an important signal for religious freedom and the rule of law.

The group stressed, however, that girls in elementary school are too young to cover their heads.

IGGOe President Umit Vural said in a statement “equal opportunity and the autonomy of girls and women in our society cannot be achieved through bans.’’

Vural added that instead, it is necessary to strengthen human rights and to raise pressure to wear headscarves is unacceptable.

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