France’s highest court has overturned the recent ban on “burkinis” in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, saying it was a clear violation of individual and fundamental liberties.
There are similar bans in about 30 coastal towns in France and each one will remain in place until they are legally challenged. However, today’s legal decision sets a precedent.
The ruling trumps the recent decision by local authorities to ban “improper clothes that don’t respect good morals or secularism” on beaches between June 15 and Sept. 15.
“Burkinis” are a full body swimsuit worn by Muslim women.
The challenge was brought by the League of Human Rights and the Committee against Islamaphobia.
While France’s prime minister supported the ban, calling the burkini an “enslavement of women,” the lawyer who challenged the ban in court argued that the burkini was a veil and a wetsuit combined. The French government allows women to wear veils in public spaces.
The ban has been in the media spotlight ever since photos of a woman wearing a headscarf and leggings on a beach in Nice was widely shared on social media. In the photos, armed officers can be seen confronting the Muslim woman about her clothing.
Other groups have publicly spoken out against the ban.
Bénédicte Jeannerod, the director of Human Rights Watch in France, wrote in a statement, “Under the pretext of defending France’s republican principles and women’s rights, the burkini ban actually amounts to banning women from the beach, in the middle of the summer, just because they wish to cover their bodies in public. It’s almost a form of collective punishment against Muslim women for the actions of others.”
French President Francois Hollande has not addressed the burkini issue directly, but said in a recent speech that there must be a “need for rules and respect of those rules, without provocation and stigmatization.”