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Europe's top court upholds French headscarf ban

Sacking of French Muslim worker from a government hospital for wearing religious garb did not violate freedom-of-religion law, says court
The hijab is a style of Muslim female headwear. France's 1905 secularism law bans public employees from displaying religious beliefs at work (AFP)
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday unanimously upheld France's headscarf ban in a case brought by a French Muslim social worker sacked in 2000 for wearing a religious veil.

The case was brought by Christiane Ebrahimian in 2011, now 64, a social worker at the psychiatric department at a public hospital in Nanterre.

Back in 2000, the hospital refused to renew Ebrahimian's contract "on account of her refusal to remove her headgear and following complaints from patients", the ECHR said.

Then in 2002, France's Administrative Court found that the hospital’s decision "had been in accordance with the principles of secularism and neutrality of public services".

The ruling was upheld in 2004 and 2005 by both the Paris and Versailles Administrative Courts of Appeal.

Europe's top court ruled on Thursday the ban did not violate Article 9 - right to freedom of religion - of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The move was not wholly unexpected after the Strasbourg court in 2014 rejected a challenge to France's 2010 general ban on the burqa, which cannot be worn in public. 

Belgium also banned the burqa in 2011 with the Ticino region in Switzerland adopting a law banning the full face veil this week. Under the new regional law, enacted following a referendum in 2013, women seen wearing the veil in public will be fined up to $9,800. 

France's 1905 secularism law bans public employees from displaying religious beliefs at work. In 2004, the law was extended to ban students from wearing any "conspicuous signs" of religion, such as headscarves, skullcaps or crucifixes at schools.

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