Germany’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a complete ban on teachers wearing headscarves is not compatible with religious freedom. This decision overturns an earlier ruling from September last year.
A German labour court had ruled in September that church institutions are permitted to ban the wearing of muslim headscarves if they deemed it necessary. Legal disputes on the subject began 15 years ago when a muslim woman from the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg filed a suit, demanding that she be allowed to wear her headscarf while working as a teacher. Baden-Württemberg’s Minister of Culture refused her admission into school teaching, arguing that teachers in Germany had to remain neutral towards pupils in matters of religion and faith. A series of conflicting state rulings on the subject followed.
Last Friday’s ruling by the Constitutional Court resulted from a suit brought by two female Muslim teachers from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia who wanted to wear head coverings while at work. State authorities had ruled that they were violating North Rhine-Westphalia law. One of the teachers had been dismissed from her job, while the other received a written warning.
The high court in Karlsruhe has now decided that the ban was an intrusion on the teachers’ self-identity. However, this is not the end of the matter, since the ruling means that headscarves could theoretically still be banned in certain individual cases if the wearing of such posed a “concrete danger”. This could occur, for example, if a Muslim teacher wearing a headscarf were to cause frequent upset among pupils.