France bans burkini swimsuits for religious reasons

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PARIS (AP) — France’s highest administrative court ruled on Tuesday against allowing body-covering “burkini” swimsuits in public swimming pools for religious reasons, arguing that it violates the government’s principle of neutrality. towards religion.

Although only worn by a small number of people in France, the head-to-ankle burkini sparks intense political debate in the country.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin hailed the Council of State’s decision as a “victory for secularism”. Some Muslim women have decried it as unfairly targeting their faith and their body, and based on outdated misconceptions about Islam.


The city of Grenoble, led by a mayor from the Greens party, voted last month to allow women to wear burkinis in public swimming pools after campaigning by local activists. The city also voted to allow women to swim topless, part of a broader relaxation of swimsuit rules.

The prefect, or senior government official in the Grenoble region, blocked the burkini decision, arguing that it went against France’s secular principles.

The Council of State confirmed Tuesday the decision of the prefect, estimating in a press release that the vote of Grenoble was made “to satisfy a religious claim” and “undermines the neutrality of public services”.

The move was the first under a controversial law, championed by President Emmanuel Macron, aimed at protecting “republican values” from what his government calls the threat of religious extremism.

Clothing rules at public swimming pools in France are strict, for what authorities say are hygienic reasons: caps are compulsory, and loose swimsuits or other bulky clothing are generally prohibited. Wetsuits are also not permitted in many pools, as are some sun protection suits.

A few other cities and towns allow burkinis in public pools. The city of Rennes is one of them, but its decision was intended to relax the rules of the swimsuit and not to be based on religious reasons.

The mayor of Grenoble argued that women should be able to wear what they want and express their religious conviction in swimming pools as well as in the street. Critics of the burkini – who include far-right but also left-wing local officials – have argued that the swimsuit represents the oppression of women and a potential gateway to Islamic radicalism.

Six years ago, the Council of State overturned a local burkini ban, amid shock and anger after some Muslim women were ordered to remove clothing concealing the body on beaches on the Coast of Azure.

For Fatima Bent of the Muslim feminist group Lallab, Tuesday’s decision is “a clear setback” that will further isolate women who cover their heads and bodies in public.

While some Muslim women are forced by male relatives to cover up, she said, “Muslim women are not homogeneous. (The French authorities) look at Muslim women through a single prism. She blamed a “fixation with Muslim women’s bodies by politicians who want to control them” of the colonial era.

Grenoble’s decision on topless swimming has not been threatened in court.

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