New Development in the German Headscarf Debate

August 29, 2004

The Headscarf Debate has raged on in Germany since the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) issued its decision on September 24, 2003 that a Muslim school teacher could not be prevented from wearing a headscarf while teaching under the current administrative and legal framework in place at that time. The Court held that such an issue going to the fundamental rights of relgious free exercise and the constitutional guarantee to civil service employment under certain conditions should properly be decided by a democractically elected legislature. Thus, although Fereshta Ludin was allowed to continue wearing her headscarf as of the date of that High Court decision, the issue was not settled because each German state (Bundesland) was now in the position to create legislation to ban the headscarf under a “sufficiently clear legal basis” to pass constitutional muster in the Constitutional Court. See my earlier thread in English for some analysis of the difficulties in this decision and its implications.

This summer, the Headscarf Debate has progressed as each German state has passed its own legislation prohibiting teachers from wearing the headscarf while teaching:

Nachdem das Bundesverfassungsgericht im September 2003 klare gesetzliche Grundlagen für ein Kopftuchverbot an staatlichen Schulen gefordert hatte, beeilten sich beide Länder und verabschiedeten die neuen Gesetze bereits im April 2004.

Most recently, Iyman Alzayed, a teacher in Hannover is making headlines with her decision to emigrate to Vienna from her homeland of Germany in order to avoid the newly enacted Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) state legislation proscribing the headscarf while teaching. The Constitutional Court has recently found the new Baden-Württemburg state legislation resulting from the September 24, 2003 decision’s allowance for the creation of a sufficiently clear legal basis upon which to ground a prohibition to be constitutional (“Die Leipziger Richter entschieden jetzt, dass das Gesetz den Vorgaben ihrer Karlsruher Kollegen entspricht.”). In Vienna, she will be able to work and remain true to her religious convictions at the same time, rather than be forced to choose between working and abiding by her convictions. Mohammed also left his country of Mecca because of religious persecution–but he returned in triumph eight years later. Will there be such a return for exiled Muslim school teachers who are avoiding a state that is hostile, rather than neutral, toward religion?