The Berlin organisation ReachOut has launched a campaign to rescind the 2003 Law on Neutrality that opened the way for the German states (Länder) to ban the headscarf.
Over half of Germany’s sixteen states now ban students and civil servants (including teachers) from wearing the headscarf. The authority to do so comes from the 2003 Law on Neutrality – a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court that holds that the individual Land can, if it so chooses, enact laws imposing restrictions on the wearing of certain items of religious clothing and symbols on the grounds of the need for neutrality amongst civil servants. In theory, restrictions should include all religious symbols but in practice many states restrict the wearing of the headscarf while making exemptions for religious symbols associated with Christianity.
Berlin introduced its Law on Neutrality in 2005. It bans the wearing of all religious symbols by court officials, police and law enforcement officers and in public schools (except vocational schools). According to ReachOut, this, in fact, adds up to an occupational ban for Muslim women wearing the veil in public service. While the Muslim veil is banned, the Christian crucifix can still be worn. Research by ReachOut shows that the bans are now spilling over into the private sector, where employers are using the Law on Neutrality to exclude Muslim women from job application procedures.
‘This law does not contribute to the emancipation and equality of Muslim women’ states ReachOut in a press release to launch its campaign. ‘On the contrary, it forces Muslim women wearing the veil to stay financially dependent on their families and forces them into precarious jobs. It incapacitates women and takes their right to decide whether they want to wear the veil or not. Against this exclusion and discrimination, ReachOut demands the withdrawal of the Law on Neutrality.’
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