French Court Overturns The Ban On Burkinis

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

The top administrative court in France overturned a ban on the so-called Islamic “burkini” swimsuit after a month of international controversy and push-back from human rights groups.

French Riviera resort town of Villeneuve-Loubet, along with around 12 other towns, instituted the swimwear ban in the name of secularism, a key tenet of French society. The Council of State ruling stated that the ban “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom.”

A lawyer from the League of Human Rights, which led the challenge against the ban, told reporters that the towns should reverse the ban in light of the ruling, but at least one mayor has remained indignant.

“There’s a lot of tension here and I won’t withdraw my decree,” said Ange-Pierre Vivoni, the mayor of Sisco, a town in Corsica.

The burkini controversy has led to fierce debate over France’s societal apprehension toward public displays of religion. Known as “Laicite,” the philosophy dates back to at least the late 19th century. It was incorporated into law in 1905, with the French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State. Initially, the law was meant to prevent any undue influence from the Catholic church in matters of state and governance, but it has since leaked into other aspects of public life. Critics of the law claim that it goes beyond simple separation of church and state, and prevents citizens from expressing their religious beliefs.

“It’s the logical extension of France’s law against full-face coverings, particularly the kind worn by some Muslim women,” wrote columnist Steve Chapman in a piece for Reason Tuesday. “Chic Supporters of that law, enacted in 2010, said it was needed to keep criminals from concealing their identity. That excuse doesn’t work for the burkini, which confirms it was just that: an excuse.”

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