The French 'Headscarves Ban': Intolerance or Necessity?

32 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2009 Last revised: 30 Sep 2015

See all articles by Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler

Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler

University of Reading School of Law; Refugee Studies Centre; Refugee Law Initiative; University of Johannesburg Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 15, 2009


The article critically examines the new legislation in France, enacted last September, which prohibits the wearing of ostensible religious signs or attire in French public schools. The article views the developments in French public discourse regarding the wearing on Headscarves, and focuses on the new legislation. The ramifications of the legislation in light of Human Rights Law are discussed, emphasizing the (negative) impact it has on practicing the right to freedom of religion, and the right to culture.

Alongside the Human Rights discourse, the article analyses the effect of various legal models regulating the relations between religion and state, and the two conflicting models dealing with majority-minority cultural relations on the manner in which western liberal democracies confront the issue of wearing of ostensible religious signs, especially when these signs carry a cultural significance.

Three main religion and state relations models for regulation are extensively discussed in the article- the secular state model, the non-intervening state model, and the official religion state model. Two conflicting majority-minority culture relations models are also described- the melting-pot model, versus the multi-cultural model.

The main objective of the paper is to use the French example as a test-case to prove that the models chosen by a society to regulate both the relations between state and religion, and the majority-minority cultural relations vitally effect the interpretation provided by that society of its commitments to Human Rights protection, in general, and to practicing the right to freedom of religion and the right to culture, in particular.

Suggested Citation

Ziegler, Reuven, The French 'Headscarves Ban': Intolerance or Necessity? (October 15, 2009). John Marshall Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 1, p. 235, 2006 , Available at SSRN:

Reuven Ziegler (Contact Author)

University of Reading School of Law ( email )

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