Thursday, June 5, 2008

ECHR Enters Fore Before Court Decides Türban Case

With the Constitutional Court set to decide the constitutionality of the türban amendments either today or tomorrow, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) affirmed past ECHR case law that state bans on the türban do not violate the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 9's guarantees freedom of thought, conscious, and religion. The ECHR ruled that the Turkish Education Ministry was within its right to fire Fatma Karaduman and Sevil Tandoğan, two teachers at a religious high school who refused to remove their headscarves.

Like in an earlier decided case in 2005, Leyla Şahin v. Turkey, the ECHR ruled that the state had a legitimate interest in regulating the türban in universities. In Şahin, the ECHR opinion read that ". . . the regulations concerned have to be viewed in that context and constitute a measure intended to achieve the legitimate aims referred to above and thereby to preserve pluralism in the university."

France has a similar law banning students from wearing religious clothing or symbols that manifest an overt religious affiliation in public education institutions. French courts have affirmed the constitutionality of the law based on the ECHR's decision in Şahin. Although its timing was a complete coincidence, the ECHR's ruling, just as with Şahin, should do little to bolster EU support among conservative Sunni Muslims at a time when many are focused on what will happen at the Constitutional Court in the next two days.

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