German high court overturns headscarf ban for teachers

AP News
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Posted: Mar 13, 2015 7:25 AM

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's highest court on Friday struck down a state law banning teachers from wearing headscarves as unconstitutional, saying it violates the right to religious freedom.

The Federal Constitutional Court's ruling came in the case of two female Muslim teachers from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but will also apply to the several other German states that have headscarf bans. It came after more than 12 years of legal battles, and the issue already made it to the high court in Karlsruhe in 2003, when judges ruled that headscarves were allowed unless banned by specific laws.

That prompted several states to pass those laws.

"A blanket ban on religious expression in public schools based upon the outward appearance of educators is not compatible with their religious freedoms," the court said in a statement.

The North Rhine-Westphalia state law banned headscarves on grounds they could call into question a teacher's neutrality and cause classroom disruptions. But the court ruled a school would need to show "not only an abstract but a sufficiently specific risk" to justify a ban.

The court also said a clause excepting "Christian and Western educational and cultural values or traditions" from the state's ban violated the constitution's protection against discrimination on religious grounds.

Following the ruling, the state said it would re-examine its law and make the necessary changes.