USCIRF Annual Report 2012 - Other National and Regional Issues: Western Europe

USCIRF has also observed a growing trend of increasing limitations on certain forms of Muslim religious dress in Western Europe. In 2011, laws banning full-face veils in public came into force in France and Belgium, and in late September the first two fines were imposed under the French law. The French law follows legislation enacted in 2004 that bans the wearing of "conspicuous" religious symbols in French public schools, which includes the hijab. In August 2011, an Italian parliamentary commission approved a draft law that would ban such veils anywhere in public, and in September the Swiss parliament's lower house passed a bill that would ban face-covering veils on public transport and in public buildings. In January 2012, the Cabinet of the Netherlands affirmed an earlier decision that would ban such veils later in the year on public transport, in public buildings, and on the streets.

International standards guarantee every individual the freedom to manifest peacefully his or her religious beliefs in public as well as in private, which includes the freedom to wear clothing that the individual believes is mandated by his or her religion. International standards state that freedom of religion and expression must be respected, which also ensures a lack of coercion for those choosing not to wear headscarves or other religious dress. Despite real challenges of integration, it is regrettable that governments that otherwise value and protect human rights and women's rights are limiting access to education and individual religious expression through dress.


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