French court upholds ban on ‘burkinis’ in city swimming pools

Following A series of protests by local Muslim womenThe city passed a decree in May 2021 allowing swimwear in Grenoble to bathe in public pools.

But later that month, the city’s administrative tribunal overturned the decision – a decision upheld on Tuesday by France’s highest administrative court.

In its decision, the French Council of State invoked the principles of religious neutrality, and concluded that allowing a “burkini” would “undermine the equitable behavior of users, so as to compromise the neutrality of the public service.”

“Contrary to the claimed purpose of the city of Grenoble,” the city’s preliminary decision to authorize a “burkini” is intended “only to satisfy a demand of a religious nature,” the court said.

It also said that the Grenoble decision would have allowed some bathers to violate “sanitation and safety regulations”.

Religious neutrality is rooted in modern French administrative principles, promoted by a so-called “separatism law” passed by Emmanuel Macron’s government last year.

The law, backed by right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darminin, explicitly prohibits acts that “have the manifest purpose of giving to sectarian demands with religious motives.”

Muslim women in France often have difficulty accessing public services due to strict limits on the performance of their religious belief – one reason why such restrictions have been criticized by rights advocates, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

French government in 2004 banned “Distinctive” religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, Jewish skulls and large Christian crosses from French schools. The full face covering known as the niqab is prohibited on public transport and in all French public places, including parks, streets and administrative buildings.