Human Rights Watch: French Law Violates Religious Freedom, Discriminatory Toward Muslims

February 27, 2004

Source: Human Rights Watch

On February 27, 2004 Human Rights Watch issued a press release that stated, "The proposed French law banning Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols in state schools would violate the rights to freedom of religion and expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, which forbids 'signs and dress that conspicuously show the religious affiliation of students,' will be debated in the French Senate on March 2. 'The proposed law is an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice,' said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. 'For many Muslims, wearing a headscarf is not only about religious expression, it is about religious obligation.'  International human rights law obliges state authorities to avoid coercion in matters of religious freedom, and this obligation must be taken into account when devising school dress codes. The proposed prohibition on headscarves in France, as with laws in some Muslim countries that force girls to wear headscarves in schools, violates this principle."