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Argument: Head scarf ban violates right to freedom of religious expression

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"France: Headscarf Ban Violates Religious Freedom". Human Rights Watch. February 27th, 2004 - "(New York, February 27, 2004)—The proposed French law banning Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols in state schools would violate the rights to freedom of religion and expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, which forbids “signs and dress that conspicuously show the religious affiliation of students,” will be debated in the French Senate on March 2.

“The proposed law is an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “For many Muslims, wearing a headscarf is not only about religious expression, it is about religious obligation.”

International human rights law obliges state authorities to avoid coercion in matters of religious freedom, and this obligation must be taken into account when devising school dress codes. The proposed prohibition on headscarves in France, as with laws in some Muslim countries that force girls to wear headscarves in schools, violates this principle.

“The proposed law has raised important issues about religious freedom and the role of the state in France,” said Roth. “The resolution of this issue will have important implications throughout Europe and beyond. But simply banning headscarves and other expressions of religious belief from the schools is not the answer.”"

"Turkey: Headscarf Ban Stifles Academic Freedom". Human Rights Watch. June 29th, 2005 - "Rather, protecting religious freedoms demonstrates the very respect for the diversity of religious conscience on which the secularism of public institutions is founded. Requiring or forbidding students to wear visible religious dress is a failure in the duty of the state to avoid coercion in matters of religious conscience.

Several Turkish students barred from university education for wearing the headscarf have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which is scheduled to rule on their cases today. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, the students allege that the ban breaches their rights to religious freedom, freedom of expression, right to privacy and that it is discriminatory. The trend in the court’s recent decisions has been to uphold governments’ right to restrict the wearing of the headscarf “in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”"

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